Jim Farley's title alone is a mouthful: Ford Motor Co. executive vice president of global marketing, sales, service and Lincoln. That means he's responsible for everything from charting a Super Bowl ad strategy in the United States to parts distribution in Thailand to setting up a Lincoln dealer network in China.
Farley, who came to Ford from Toyota in 2007, believes fervently that the auto industry is in the midst of a marketing revolution, propelled by digital and social media. He has pushed Ford to be a leader in extending the arc of a vehicle's launch using Internet-based campaigns that begin well before the launch. These days he's fascinated by marketing possibilities inherent in the connected car.
Farley, 51, discussed these and other subjects with Automotive News staffers, including News Editor Dave Guilford, Automotive News TV Editor Tom Worobec and Staff Reporter Bradford Wernle.
Q. You've made big strides in California and other coastal states. To what do you attribute your growing success in those areas?
A. To make progress in California, it took the whole transformation of Ford. That included the consolidation of the dealer network so we had the right number of dealers who could be profitable and offer the right kind of training and facilities. The next thing we did was transform our product range. That meant expanding our availability of hybrids and also cars and crossovers. We have so much choice now we didn't have before, like the Focus and Fiesta. The hybrid lineup has really helped us.
We also spent a lot of time with our dealers thinking through our fixed marketing, the advertising piece -- not just the message but also the investment. We had to be sure we were spending the right amount of money so people knew about this new lineup.
You've been a proponent of social media. You said once that if you do the prelaunch right, you drive traffic in and don't have to spend as much on conventional media. How has that worked out?
It's not only here in the U.S., it's a global trend for us. The team in Thailand and in India [has used prelaunch campaigns] for the EcoSport. In India we got 40,000 orders in just a month. That would normally take a full year. We got them in just a month or so because we had a yearlong prelaunch. What we've found is that you should make the traditional media buy contingent on the metrics you see in the prelaunch.
The most important thing is when you release the price. What we found is that people may be interested in your car, but they're not going to put an order in until they see the price. This has been a key learning, especially when it comes to subcore models, vehicles that don't get TV advertising or broadcast TV advertising or digital ever.
What's an example of a subcore model?
The Fiesta ST. It has a very small audience, and you know where they are. You know what their passions are. You can design a social media campaign that touches them, whether it's a Subaru owners club or the Mazdaspeed owners club.
The Fiesta had a younger audience, and there was some question whether the Fusion buyer would be as easy to approach with social media. It seems like that worked. Would it work for anything, say Lincoln?
The scale of Facebook and Google are becoming very competitive with the broadcast networks. A lot of studies are showing that more people are paying more attention to Facebook and Google than they are broadcast media, especially during the daytime. When you get in to prime time, it becomes more equivalent. Now when you get consumers in their 60s, the adoption of social media as a kind of broadcast equivalent is much lower.
What we've learned is the prelaunch and our fixation with digital has really got us thinking differently about advertising, not just as a digital media mix transformation but more fundamentally about getting away from campaigns and moving toward being always "on." Digital really begs for an "always on" content factory that's producing content all the time that's relevant to the news cycle. Big community events like the Super Bowl or Champion's League in Europe are times when people are paying attention and listening as a society, and most of them are using digital platforms to share observations about a game or before and after commercials. Those are great platforms to share the company's point of view.
Have you decided whether Ford or Lincoln will be advertising on the Super Bowl?
We've certainly made a decision, but we won't tell you what it is. We've always approached the Super Bowl from a very practical point of view, where if we had a challenger product or challenger message, it was a very appropriate venue. That's why we went there with Lincoln. The Super Bowl is a great event for a brand that no one has heard of or a company that is launching a new product no one knows about because of the reach of the event. For Ford, there's a 95 percent familiarity with the brand. I always wonder: Who are the 5 percent who don't know Ford is in the car business?
You recently restated fuel economy on the C-Max Hybrid downward. The fuel economy is no longer 47 mpg combined. How do you reboot your marketing now for that vehicle?
We still have the advertising claim of best in class. We don't expect to change our marketing materials or approach given how well the C-Max has been received.
How high do you want to take Lincoln in terms of luxury?
In the traditional luxury world, you create exclusivity with price. That leads to elitism in a way. That's not our goal for Lincoln. We don't want to be an elitist brand.
The Great Recession changed a lot in the luxury industry. Those top-end sedans [used to account for] 20 to 25 percent. Now they're just 4 to 5 percent. If you look at the growth in the luxury industry in the U.S., it's all been C-size [compact] vehicles, especially C utility. We want to be sure we have a really solid group of products that hit the main luxury market for most customers in the U.S. So we're really filling out our lineup according to where the market is. We don't believe our flagship is created with price at Lincoln. Our flagship is Black Label, the ability to customize any vehicle from bottom to the top. When you buy a Lincoln you can make it your own. That's our definition of flagship.
You wear a lot of hats. What excites you most these days? Is it social media?
This is the most significant, most exciting development for us as an industry -- to have personalized ads and to have data coming back from the customer about how they interact with those ads. That could really change the face of automotive marketing.
For all of us marketers in our industry, the most exciting and in some ways intimidating transition we're going to be going through is transfer to a digital marketing model.
That model brings about a lot of changes. The role of the three tiers in our industry will likely change and evolve. If an OEM can serve up a personalized ad to someone based on where they are in the shopping cycle, the roles and responsibilities of the three tiers kind of changes. This is a really fundamental thing in the industry we absolutely have to think of.