Ford About To Test The Limits Of Social Media Branding

19 Comments

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.

19 Comments

London

I think it is a great idea for Ford. It sounds like they have 'vetted' the team to a large extent so I am sure they will act in Fords interest. Prepare for the car to be all over the web, that is a very large team to have working for you….of course if what they produce is any good then you can multiply that exponentially up into the millions in the online world.

homepage

Good for Ford… they might be the only US automaker if GM and Chrysler don't get their act together.

Scott Monty

Michael,

We not only used characteristics of online social vibrancy to select our agents, but we also looked at geographical dispersion. If you go to http://www.fiestamovement.com, you can browse through the agents based on their proximity to you.

In addition, we'll be taking 40 Fiestas around the country between now and the end of the year, hitting 100 cities and attempting to get 100,000 people in the vehicle for test drives/rides. Not to mention that the agents will be taking their vehicles out in public locations and sharing the experience offline.

So yes, we thought it through on a number of levels.

Carrie Watkins

I wonder if those 100 bloggers will have more of a reach than we might think. I actually already heard about this from a blogger who doesn't drive much (lives in NYC and travels a lot) but he took a test drive anyway. He included his thoughts in a enewsletter that goes to almost 20k people across the county.

I drove a Festiva in high school and college, and will post the link on my Facebook page for all the people who knew me while I drove it (the new design is much nicer than my beloved "box on wheels"). I only have 150 friends on FB, but I could easily see where the reach of this project could be exponential if even a handful of other people who received that enewsletter did the same thing, not counting those other 99 bloggers.

Michael Sommermeyer

Ford has limited the risk of finding hateful content about the Fiesta by hand-selecting the 20-somethings testing the cars. That gives them a major advantage over the Tahoe scheme, which backfired for numerous reasons, including anyone with dislike for the Tahoe could express their dislike.

I agree the sample may be too small to do much good. Unless of course, the group of 100 is concentrated in the Top 5 markets, with a handful rounding out the other markets. Scott, did you consider top population centers for 20-somethings as well, or only strength of social networks? I would be interested to also see how you capitalize on their reviews, videos and other postings to generate buzz in the more traditional media.

Travis Sheveland

Ford has nothing to fear !! The New Fiesta is fun and Sporty !! If people do their research, they will end up on Ford's doorstep more often than not!! Look at the new Fusion Hybrid !! 41 MPG !!! Are you kidding me !!! Look out Toyota !! And if you look at JD Powers dependability report, Ford is way up at the top!!! Toyota and Honda are lower !!! Everyone needs to open their eyes to what Ford has to offer !!! More bang for the buck, and dependable!!! I would love to be part of this test market !!! The New Fiesta Looks Sweet!!!!!

pamela mac

I think its brilliant. GM right now has commercials talking about how they're making changes yet they show a bunch of big cars & SUVs. Gas is going to go back up and people care about how bad these big vehicles are for the environment. Give a bunch of cool people a chance to show what a great gas& enviro saving car Ford can produce. I say Bravo hope it works!!!

Haus Verlosung

I always thought that the Fiesta is Ford's product that is only sell in Europe. Never mind! The marketing gag is really risky but what should they do when Ford is in a fight to the death?

Robert Lönn

This will be so cool to follow. I am quite sure that this is the right thing for them to do. If it backfires they can probably save it somehow. But if it becomes a success(which I am sure they can affect if they pick the right people and give the right kind of assistance.), they will be riding a very cheap wave that they can spin a very long way.

Nuri Djavit

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.

nathanr

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.

nathanr

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.

Douglas Karr

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.

free virtual worlds for kids

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.

Lauren McMullen

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

Scott Monty

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

Stevie Brooklyn

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

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