Ford's prelaunch marketing strategy for the redesigned 2013 Fusion, announced last week, is a sign of the times: The cutting-edge combination of social media and entertainment is the kind of nontraditional advertising that is breaking out all over in the auto business.
Across the board, automakers are shifting advertising dollars from traditional media to an array of new methods that include search marketing, online video and social media.
Last year Ford became the first major automaker to spend more on so-called unmeasured, new-media forms of advertising than on traditional ad purchases -- TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, billboards and Internet display ads, according to Advertising Age's annual 100 Leading National Advertisers report.
Ford is adjusting to the "absolute reality of the times," said Matt VanDyke, U.S. marketing director.
And so is the industry as a whole.
Although the economy picked up in 2011 and new-vehicle sales rebounded, traditional advertising declined at Ford, General Motors and Toyota Motor Corp., three of the four largest auto advertisers in the United States.
GM, the No. 1 auto advertiser, went from $2.15 billion in traditional media categories in 2010 to just $1.77 billion last year, according to Kantar Media figures reported by Advertising Age, which, like Automotive News, is owned by Crain Communications Inc. Spending fell across the board among GM brands, with Cadillac down 16 percent, Buick off 15 percent and Chevrolet down 7 percent.
Yet GM's overall U.S. ad and promotion spending increased 11 percent to $3.06 billion because of a 115 percent increase in nontraditional spending, to $1.28 billon, according to Advertising Age estimates.
"Year-to-year, we've been increasing the percentage of our advertising spend that we've dedicated to online and digital," said Patrick Morrissey, GM's director of product and brand communications. "It is a key trend that is happening in all industries, but especially in the auto industry."
Ad spending at Ford and Toyota also went up last year, but only because of growth in nontraditional areas.
Ford's ad buys on measured media dipped slightly to $1.1 billion, but its estimated total spending rose 12 percent to $2.14 billion.