Social Media Keys Ford's Marketing Renaissance

By Dale Buss November 3, 2011

Ford Doug social.jpg

When Ford CMO Jim Farley delivers a keynote address at a big national convention of bloggers in Los Angeles Friday, he will become the first-auto industry marketing chief to do so. That’s certainly a big deal for the BlogWorld & New Media Expo, which has become the largest annual event in the world solely dedicated to advancing social media. But it’s even more important for Ford, which is gamely attempting to extend the early lead it has established over other automakers in exploiting all manner of social media and converting its cunning into real gains in awareness, consideration and sales of its products.

“We’ve shown a commitment to social media in general, and having our top marketing leader there is really significant for us, because social is part of almost everything we do now,” said Scott Monty, Ford’s director of social media. Farley will be telling the bloggers about “putting brands in the hands of consumers, and what that means – both the benefits and the risks,” Monty reported. Farley himself said, in a statement, that “the days of companies like Ford just talking at customers are over. As consumers, we want to do business with brands we can relate to and interact with. We want authentic experiences to share with family and friends, and above all, we have a desire to be heard.”

These days, Ford continues to be heard loud and clear in social media by consumers as well as by the cottage industry that has cropped up to monitor what brands do in this dynamic, exploding space. Right now, for instance, Monty and his colleagues are – like executives at many other brands – trying to understand how the format changes by Facebook are going to affect the huge marketing infrastructure that the ubiquitous social network has built and to which thousands of brands have been attaching themselves.

Keeping the Lead
And even more generally, the Ford marketing brain trust really is trying to figure out how to parlay their early successes with social media into a long-term competitive advantage. Ford stole a march on competitors two years ago, for instance, with its Fiesta Movement, which put the new subcompact in the driveways of 100 “social change” agents who then proceeded to tweet, blog and post their impressions of the vehicles to thousands and then millions of others – building huge awareness for Fiesta and generating a long list of hand-raisers by the time the car came out. Similarly, Ford supercharged the launch of its new Explorer several months ago with several social-media initiatives, including some aimed at baby boomers who are a primary target market for the new version of the company’s long-time SUV nameplate.

Now, for Ford, it’s a matter of trying to stay ahead of an industry where social media is elbowing to the front of pretty much every rival’s playbook. “We need to find a way for the long term to remain relevant and part ofd the conversation and figure out how to do so in a less interruptive way, and create shared experiences for people,” Monty said. “A lot of people say that the public likes to interact with brands online so they can get coupons and discounts. But there’s another element there – this need to have a shared experience, being part of something bigger and contributing to something. We want to make sure fans have a chance to do that.

For instance, Ford recently used its social-media platforms to ask fans of its brand and, specifically, the Ford Mustang to help name a new performance package of options. The “crowd-source” selection was the Mayhem Package – so that is what Ford named it. More than 3,000 submissions were made to the Mustang Facebook page and nearly 6,700 users installed the “You Name It” app that let them participate in the contest. The winning submission came from a fan in Charlotte, N.C., who has won a three-year lease on a 2012 Mustang equipped with the Mayhem Mustang Package, which includes Mustang GT front and rear stabilizer bars, unique 19-inch wheels, Pirelli performance tires and other features.

Digging Doug.jpg

Digging Doug
Another huge success for Ford social media was its Focus Doug campaign. Launched six months ago harnessing the creative talents of bona fide Hollywood directors and actors, the online-only video serial traced Ford’s “discovery” and “recruitment” of an orange hand-puppet named Doug as the spokesthing for the 2012 Focus. The videos became a series of buddy spots featuring the comically ascerbic Doug; his human handler, “John”; flummoxed “Ford marketing executives”; some unsuspecting women who were “charmed” by the spritely puppet; and a cast of various other characters. And, oh yes – co-starring the Focus.

Sometimes criticized for highlighting Doug instead of the car in Focus Doug, Monty insisted that the campaign scored a bullseye for Focus and for Ford before it wound down as planned at the end of September. Ford targeted generation of 10,000 Facebook fans for Focus via the Doug series; he gave them 43,000. According to Monty, people have engaged with Doug on Facebook at a rate three times greater than for the vehicle itself; about 40 percent of online “conversation” about Focus during the second and third quarters was about Doug. Yet, 77 percent of people who viewed some of the nearly 50 Focus Doug videos said their favorability toward Focus had risen, and Doug’s adventures prompted a 61-percent increase in Focus consideration. “We’ve even had a handful of people say they bought Focus just because of Doug,” Monty said.

From here on, it gets tougher for Ford – or any competitor – to produce that kind of success with any brand-focused campaign on social media, because every brand is looking to strike Focus Doug kind of gold. Yet Ford continues to attempt to innovate ways to extend its initial edge in the medium. For instance, it is looking for new ways to exploit the importance of all kinds of visual content in social media. “People want to be entertained but also intelligently informed” via social media, he said. “They don’t want to be talked down to. They don’t want to read a textbook. But if there is information that’s helpful and useful and puts them at the forefront of their peer group, while helping them intelligently inform others, they go for that.”

New Devices
In that regard, stationary infographics have emerged as a new way to engage social-media followers. For example, in the ramp-up to the Los Angeles Auto Show later in November, Ford produced a graphic and distributed it on Flickr highlighting a “green” feature of the 2013 Ford Escape that is to debut at the show. It depicts how Ford uses the recycling of 25 20-oz. plastic beverage bottles to make carpeting in each Escape unit, or the equivalent of about four million recycled plastic bottles each year.

Time was when such information never would have reached the, say, few thousand American consumers to whom that factor might make a difference in selection the new Escape over some rival. But now, Ford knows exactly how to get it to them.

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sxty8stang says: 12:59 PM, 11.03.11

Interesting that Ford evidently decided that Mayhem was a stupid name and it's now called the V6 Performance Package - see this screenshot: http://awesomescreenshot.com/063nlo501

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