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Summary:

With its back against the wall financially, auto maker Ford is taking a radical and risky approach to the marketing of its new Fiesta: Later…

imageWith its back against the wall financially, auto maker Ford is taking a radical and risky approach to the marketing of its new Fiesta: Later this month, it will hand over the branding and promotion duties for the car to 100 twenty-somethings who have no advertising experience.

Ford is giving each of them a Fiesta to drive around; recipients range from award-winning indie filmmakers, to single moms, to aspiring dancers, and even avid gamers, and they’ll document their experiences with the car through YouTube vignettes, blog posts and other social media updates for six months. The kicker is that Ford will have no control over what they post, meaning the effort could ultimately end up tarnishing the brand almost a year before it hits U.S. dealerships.

But it’s a risk Ford has to take — since it’s in a fight (to the death?) to attract young, tech-savvy consumers that may have never thought about buying a domestic car before. The company believes that traditional marketing won’t sway this demographic.

Dubbed the “Fiesta Movement,” Ford worked with New York-based social media consulting firm Undercurrent to help flesh out the concept; more than 4,000 people submitted video auditions, and the WSJ reports that Ford chose the recipients based on a “social vibrancy” rating — a measure of how much they were followed online and across how many platforms — as well as other factors like overall creativity, video-making skills and of course, their driving histories.

Ford isn’t the first car company to try to reach younger consumers through social media: Toyota’s Scion brand has launched initiatives in virtual worlds like Second Life and There.com, Honda partnered with Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim for a user-generated t-shirt campaign, and Chevy’s most recent effort gave away free Aveo5 hatchbacks to winners of an online video competition.

But giving consumers control over a brand can backfire: in 2006, Chevy let YouTubers make commercials for the 2007 Tahoe, and instead of getting clips that showed off the SUV’s features, most of the entries focused on how bad the truck was for the environment. Still, Ford acknowledged that the stakes were too high to not engage its target demo in the most edgy way possible: “In terms of awareness, we have to go from zero,” Chantel Lenard, Ford’s global car marketing manager, told the WSJ.

  1. Stevie Brooklyn Thursday, April 9, 2009

    GM should run a contest for best video of making fun of the Fiesta.

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  2. We'll take it. Their parody of the tailgate step (which GM affectionately calls the "man-step") has done more to help us than not. http://jalopnik.com/5139326/ford-loves-new-chevy-man-step-commercial

    But I think GM has other priorities right now. At Ford, we're focused on being different, not only in our position on government money, but on our commitment to fuel economy and on our marketing & communications efforts.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

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  3. I think this a great example of the innovation that sometime occurs when times are tough and businesses are forced to take a risk so they can survive in a new marketplace.

    It will be exciting to watch!

    I will be rooting for you even though I drive a Dodge Ram. (I used to drive Ford truck till I switched to the Cummings diesel)

    Lauren
    @laurenamcmullen

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  4. In times like these, nothing much to lose in taking the risk with this "un-traditional" marketing strategy. Certainly gives the average consumer a voice in saying how they want products to be, rather than from the developer's point of view.

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  5. I'm not sure it's that much of a risk, I do question the influence that 100 twenty-somethings have, though, in six months. If you take the top 25 markets in the United States, that leaves 4 per major metropolitan area (populations over 1 million). Even with a full network of 300 to 400 friends… and extend that network to 16,000 (400 * 400), it's still not enough of a direct influencing impact. Six months may be too long for a bunch of twenty-somethings to live around these cars. It's risky – very risky.

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  6. Oops – sorry re: risk. I meant that it is quite a risk.

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  7. I think it is very cool– they should ask them to twitter about the car, work with apple to download the music they listen to in the car, and have them do road trips that they can videotape & upload the video online like a fiesta mini-series. Ford could really have some fun with this and have it reach different parts of the internet.

    The risks are no different than having some entrenched cranky car reviewer write something or having consumer reports post something with strings of comments much like these.

    Good for Ford– they get the power of engaging consumers.

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  8. I think it is very cool– they should ask them to twitter about the car, work with apple to download the music they listen to in the car, and have them do road trips that they can videotape & upload the video online like a fiesta mini-series. Ford could really have some fun with this and have it reach different parts of the internet.

    The risks are no different than having some entrenched cranky car reviewer write something or having consumer reports post something with strings of comments much like these.

    Good for Ford– they get the power of engaging consumers.

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  9. Fiesta? I wonder if Undercurrent told them that all the UGM in the world can't change the name.

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  10. I think the comparison to the Chevy Tahoe debacle is poor. The Tahoe is a rubbish vehicle even if you don't consider the inefficiencies it represents. The Ford Fiesta, however, is a tried, tested and awarded platform in Europe – where Ford generally enjoys a much higher profile than in the US. So, it's no where near as risky and highly calculated. I think it's important for brands to show that they can stand behind their products, and this is a highly credible one. I believe Ford as a great opportunity to eclipse it's ailing competitors in Detroit.

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