October 3, 2010 -- Brand Week


Ford's Top Marketer Brings New Focus

The 2012 Ford Focus, which made its debut at the Paris Auto Show on Sept. 29, is the car that Ford expects to build its market share in Europe and Asia, and rebuild it in the U.S. The newly chiseled and stylish Focus is a big change from the car U.S. consumers have come to view as a ubiquitous rental car and perhaps the model to carry a student off to college. The European Focus, which differed from the North American version beginning around 2005, is considered by many to be preferable to the Honda Civic and Toyota Corolla, two cars that Ford is obsessed with knocking off in the U.S. Come the first quarter of 2011, though, the European-designed Focus that Ford sells in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, for the first time in five years, will be nearly identical. And that's not all. Rather than the 28 ad campaigns that have been selling the car on five continents, Ford's head of global marketing, James Farley, says there will be far fewer--just enough to address the crucial cultural differences. "Two years in the making, it will be the first truly global launch for Ford under the new 'One Ford' strategy," says Farley.

That's a big change. When it comes to both developing vehicles and marketing them, Ford has been the king of inconsistency and waste. Before Farley's arrival from Toyota in 2007, Ford marketing execs around the world spent tens of millions of dollars a year shooting their own film and photography for dozens of ad campaigns and catalogues with nary an eye on efficiency.

European ads for the Focus, for example, were cinematic, highlighting the car's "kinetic design," while ads in Brazil featured Ford engineers and designers and the 1967 Turtles hit song, "Happy Together." And in the U.S., it was chaos. There had been six ad strategies and slogans in as many years, ranging from "Built for the Road Ahead" to "Look Again" to "Bold Moves."

Farley has brought in a new sense of order. "Drive One," as a slogan and strategy launched in 2008, is continuing. More than a tagline, it also reflects CEO Alan Mulally's global "One Ford" strategy, which has broken down all the regional fiefdoms around the world that wasted billions. "It will evolve, but I don't see it changing," says Farley. That's good, says Dan Gorell of auto industry consultancy AutoStrategem. "Farley understands what too few marketers do not: that it is critical to maintain messaging consistency over time to rebuild confidence and trust in the Ford brand."

Such understanding grew over time. When Farley arrived at Ford in November 2007, one of his first moves was to consult a psychologist. As he looked over the research, Farley was flummoxed. It wasn't that consumers disliked Ford as a brand; it was that too many people had become indifferent. It had 95 percent brand awareness but only about a 13 percent market share. "I had no idea how to fight indifference, so I talked to a psychologist about how to deal with it in marriages and relationships," recalls Farley. One obvious way: Show those who are indifferent that other people aren't and that they are missing something by not considering a Ford. Despite that insight, Farley fumbled his first major marketing push, a campaign for the 2008 Ford Flex. Farley stood in front of hundreds of attendees at a J.D. Power conference in Las Vegas last year and admitted that he "blew it" on the Flex. Ads showed the retro-designed crossover only at night and filmed on city streets with no people or story about product features. "The marketing brief said it wasn't to be pitched as a soccer mom's wagon, but we took it way too far, and it hurt our launch...that was my fault," Farley confessed before the crowd.

Since then, the clear emphasis in Ford's car advertising has been on messages told by real people. Ads and online videos invariably feature employees, customers or prospects Ford has gotten to test-drive one of its vehicles. Third-party testimonials from journalists have peppered advertising and social media channels. It's a focus specifically designed to overload consumers with proof points that Ford vehicles can vie with the best of Japan or Korea.

Farley's own testimonial of Ford's brand power comes from a unique perspective--that of a rival. When Farley launched the Tundra pickup for Toyota in 2006, he learned what kind of allegiance Ford's F-150 pickup had with its owners. "At Toyota, we were in awe of Ford trucks and the passion owners had for them, and we completely benchmarked the F-Series...but we didn't consider Ford cars much as competition," says Farley, who was born and raised in Michigan and is the grandson of a former Lincoln-Mercury dealer. One of the missions he has had from day one at Ford is to try to infuse the car business with the same kind of passion Ford has long had around trucks and SUVs.

To do that, Farley leans heavily on social media. Digital, which soaks up 25 percent of Ford's marketing spend--especially Facebook--was a big part of the Ford Fiesta's launch this year.

Farley is not a fan of traditional media, especially the Super Bowl, putting him in stark contrast to his GM counterpart, Joel Ewanick. Is it working? There is little doubt that Ford has been aided by two big developments in the last two years: the bankruptcies of GM and Chrysler, and Toyota's recalls, which sapped its image for quality. "The brand perception gap between Ford and Toyota is now nonexistent based on our tracking and third-party research," says Farley.

Ford's retail market share has climbed from 12.8 percent when Farley arrived to 14.1 this year. Total market share, including sales to fleets, went from 14.6 to 16.4 percent through August. But it is not like he is working alone. The reception by the automotive media and the public to the refreshed Ford Fusion, especially the Hybrid version; the redesigned F-Series pickup; the Mustang; the new Ford Taurus; and the Lincoln MKS and MKT has been overwhelmingly good. Ford posted a $2.6 billion profit in 2Q and promises to be solidly in the black this year for the first time in nine years.

Currently, Farley and his team are reviewing creative for the Focus launch in the next few weeks. It's taken two years of work, but marketing groups around the world have fallen in line to create efficiencies. Farley gave them an incentive to make their campaigns connect globally, and to cooperate on film, photography and other assets, telling them that any money they saved from the old wasteful ways would be plowed back into local media to get the word out and help them meet their sales targets, rather than Ford's profit.

At home, he must keep the momentum up as GM and Chrysler begin to rechallenge the market with freshened lineups and bigger ad budgets as they hog headlines next year with IPOs. And the 47-year-old Farley is hoping that the momentum behind the Ford brand starts to rub off on Lincoln. Having sold off Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo, Lincoln is Ford's only premium play left.

Ford decided earlier this year to mothball Mercury. And though Farley says the company is committed to Lincoln, the truth, according to other sources inside Ford, is that Lincoln will have only the next couple of years to show it can earn its way, or go the same way.

If that were to occur, Ford would be the only major automaker selling one brand globally. Even Toyota has Lexus and Scion. That would be the ultimate marketing efficiency for the third biggest car company in the world. Talk about one Ford.


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