Having jettisoned its loss making brands Jaguar and Land Rover into Tata Group's lap, Ford is now set to focus on its home market in the United States, and give its competitors a bloody nose in the bargain. Dhruv Tanwar takes a look at Ford's new marketing campaign.
Ford employees will now directly promote the company and its products in the company's latest global advertising campaign, called ''Ford. Drive One''.
Five 30-second spots, two of which will appear on American Idol, show individual Ford employees talking about their work and how customers benefit.
Shot in Ford facilities and on the streets of sunny California, the ads feature unscripted, real-life interviews with Ford engineers and technical experts about their work and the company's advances in each of the four areas of ''quality'', ''green'', ''safe'', and ''smart''.
''These ads are very different from most car ads, which usually are totally scripted,'' says Luis Salem, the media planning and brand entertainment manager coordinating Drive One.
''We never told the interview subjects what to say. We just wanted to capture in film their passion for making great products. There are a lot of talented and passionate people working at Ford and we felt that they would have the most credibility with consumers to create renewed consideration for the Ford brand.''
The campaign has been developed under the supervision of Ford's new chief marketing officer James Farley, who came aboard from rival Toyota, and has been created by WPP agency Team Detroit. Other WPP agencies have chipped in. The campaign replaces the earlier ''Bold Moves'' campaign introduced in 2006.
USP: employees, and their families
Drive One chronicles how Ford employees have closed the gap with Asian competitors on quality, advanced vehicle safety, made vehicles more fuel efficient and led the industry in developing in-car connectivity. It invites people to drive a Ford, and see for themselves how the company's vehicles stack up versus the competition.
"The four areas -- quality, green, safe, smart -- match customer concerns 100 percent," said Victor Benitez, vice president and general manager of Gus Machado Ford in Hialeah. He helped develop Drive One with Ford employees, other dealers and Ford's agencies, JWT Team Detroit and Wunderman Team Detroit, both part of the WPP Group.
Industry watchers and analysts say the campaign is in line with Ford's aim to regain market share. The campaign could well add give the company a boost at a time when Ford is again beginning to be perceived as a company that makes ''pretty good cars''. Analysts see Ford vehicles comparing well with competing cars from other manufacturers.
Of the five 30-second spots that constitute the TV campaign, two will appear on the latest American Idol.
Four pillars of the campaign
''Quality'' features Elizabeth Baron, a virtual reality and advanced visualisation technical expert at the company, and the Ford Fusion. Allison Stephens, assembly ergonomics technical specialist, was also interviewed for this spot.
Earlier this week, Ford released findings from the RDA Group research that shows Ford is second to none in vehicle quality in the US. Ford matched Toyota and Honda in initial quality, with this news following a strong showing in 2007, when Ford earned more JD Power Initial Quality awards than any other company.
Two ''green'' ads highlight Debbie Mielewski, polymer technical leader, and Bob Natkin, technical leader in research and advanced power train engineering, and the Ford Edge. According to Mielewski her husband and two children also participated in the ad shoots, terming it as ''something they will remember for the rest of their lives.''
''Safe'' spotlights Stephen Rouhana, senior technical leader for safety in Research and Advanced Engineering, and the Ford Edge.
''Smart'' concentrates on Jason Johnson, a SYNC and navigation systems product design engineer, and the Ford Focus.
A 60-second commercial will include elements from each of the shorter ads.
The face of the company
A crew around 60 from Epoch Films visited several Ford facilities in Dearborn during March, to meet the teams and see technologies demonstrated first hand. All participating employees expressed amazement that they were picked to represent Ford in the campaign. ''I think it's really great that we're going to tell consumers about all the effort that goes into building a quality vehicle,'' Stephens said.
''When they first told me that they wanted to feature me in a commercial, I said, ''You've got to be kidding,''' Rouhana exclaims. ''I'm not interested in fame and fortune; I'm interested in saving lives. But, if what I do in the area of passenger safety can convince someone to buy a Ford vehicle, then I'm glad to help in any way I can.''
Rouhana and his colleagues conducted a sled test with crash test dummies for the cameras. He was impressed by the amount of preparation involved in filming the lab activity. ''It reminded me of what we do for crash testing,'' Rouhana said. ''It can take a day to set up and it's over in a hundred milliseconds. Likewise, the shoot took a week, and all we'll see on TV is 30 seconds.''
The shoots often placed the interviewees in environments other than their usual workspaces to take advantage of unique visual elements and natural light. The film crew led by the renowned, people-oriented ad director Jeff Preiss and cinematographer Bill Pope (Spider-Man 2 and 3, and all three Matrix movies) insisted on spontaneity and naturalism.
The interviewees drove while answering questions posed by the director in the back seat. Meanwhile, a cameraman shot from the back seat, while additional footage was captured by a remote-controlled camera in the front passenger seat location (the seat was removed) and a boom camera rigged to a secondary vehicle for the external vehicle shots.
South of LA, in Thousand Oaks, Elizabeth Baron drove a Fusion on a twisting two-lane road. ''I had to pretend the cameras weren't there,'' Baron says. ''The whole process was totally unfamiliar to me, but the crew took good care of me. I even had a stunt double.''
''It was pretty glamorous and was a good break from the day-to-day, norm,'' said Jason Johnson.
''Hopefully, people will see the commercial and say 'they've got interesting people working at Ford, maybe I should give their vehicles another look.'''
Ford CEO Alan Mulally has been wanting Ford to have a unified brand message globally. Even in an emerging market like India, Ford's Fusion, which is the European crossover utility vehicle, and not the popular mid-size sedan that goes by the Fusion name in the US, is taking on the Skoda Fabia in a head-to-head marketing campaign, challenging drivers and potential customers to test drive the Fusion, and offering fuel coupons if they still go ahead and buy the rival's 3-cylinder diesel luxury hatchback.
But that is happening only for one model in India. Way higher on Ford's priority list is the mandate to ''stop the bleeding'' in the North American market.
Farley has also routed a lot of the marketing money that previously ran nationally in the US, into dealer empowerment initiatives for more tactical deployment; these are expected to show results on the ground at the retail level. Dealers have had a significant say in the new campaign, and they say Drive One is a confident statement, and an invitation to help customers experience the product strengths that really matter to people.
Drive One also echoes a Ford slogan from the past, ''Have You Driven A Ford Lately?'' That old Ford line, one of Mullaly's favourites, has some dealers in Boston tagging their local advertising with the old slogan.
It's campaign time
"The best part of Ford's story is unfolding in the studios, labs, factories and dealerships, and we're opening the door a bit, so people can see inside," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of marketing and communications. "Customers are smart. When they meet our team and see what they're working on, people will finally understand where the excellence in our products is coming from. That's what this campaign is all about."
Drive One is being introduced just ahead of Ford's rollout of new products. Seventy per cent of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury products will be new or significantly freshened by the end of the year, and the company's quality is at record levels.
Televised 30-second and 60-second spots will air throughout the summer as well. Of the five 30-second spots, two will appear on American Idol, with 70 million Americans glued to their television sets, watching passionate Ford employees market themselves, their company, and their cars.