Ford About To Test The Limits Of Social Media Branding

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, 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.