Ford's first circulars announcing the seminal Model T—"Model T touring car. $850.00. High-priced quality in a low-priced car"—were mailed to dealerships in March 1908, and the first vehicles were sold in October. In 1913, Ford introduced the moving assembly line to speed Model T production. By 1920, the automaker was producing a car a minute, and the "Tin Lizzie," as the Model T was known, became the most popular car in the world in the decade of the '20s.
Ford's use of mass production resulted in ripples throughout U.S. business, as manufacturers of materials used in new automobiles—such as steel, rubber and gasoline—ramped up to meet increased demand for their products. That effect was reflected in employment, as more workers were able to find jobs, most of them in cities, which grew to house the new workers and created new urban social issues.
After 1908, Ford's account bounced around from agency to agency for two more years, until the account settled at J. Walter Thompson Co.; that relationship, however, was not long-lasting, and in 1912, Glen Buck took over the Ford account for two years until the account moved to MacManus Co.
During the decade between 1910 and 1919, Ford expanded beyond the U.S., opening a plant in Manchester, England, in 1911 and another in Bordeaux, France, in 1913.
In 1914, Henry Ford announced his famous profit-sharing promotion. An ad for the Ford Coupelet read, "Buyers of this car will share in profits if we sell at retail 300,000 new Ford cars between August 1914 and August 1915."
Edsel Ford takes over
In 1916, Powers, Alexander & Jenkins took over the Ford account. But from 1917 to 1923, Ford discontinued advertising, except for its tractors and its Lincoln marque (acquired in January 1922, less than two years after its introduction by Henry Leland and its subsequent, swift fall into bankruptcy). During this period, individual dealers provided their own advertising. In 1918, Henry Ford stepped aside as president of Ford in favor of his son, Edsel. But in 1923, the company signed on with two new agencies: Long-Costello won Ford and Brotherton Co. got Lincoln.
One 1923 ad for Ford depicted a doctor making a house call under the headline "Dependable as the doctor himself."
In 1925, McKinney, Marsh & Cushing took over the Lincoln account. Two years later, N.W. Ayer & Son won both Ford and Lincoln, and held the consolidated account until 1939.
In 1940, McCann-Erickson became the agency of record for Ford cars and Maxon Inc. was named agency for Lincoln and Mercury, which had been introduced in November 1938 and championed by Edsel Ford as a rival to General Motors Corp.'s Buick marque.
In 1941, McCann also took on Ford's institutional advertising, but in March 1942, Ford relieved McCann of ad responsibilities. In July, Maxon lost the Lincoln account. JWT took over both accounts and has remained one of Ford's chief agencies since then, although but the relationship has periodically been rocky.
By the time the U.S. entered World War II in 1941, Ford had converted a plant to produce the B-24 Liberator bomber. The company ceased civilian car production the following year and did not resume auto manufacturing until July 1945.
When Maxon lost the Mercury account in February 1943, JWT took over all Ford advertising. It held that position for two years, until Ford named Kenyon & Eckhardt as agency for its institutional advertising.
In 1943, Edsel Ford died and his father, despite several serious strokes, once again assumed the presidency of the company. Henry Ford's eccentricities and debility exacerbated an internal struggle for power at the automaker that was not resolved until Edsel's son, Henry Ford II, convinced his grandfather to resign in September 1945. That year, the company, which had manufactured 60% of the cars purchased in the U.S. in 1917, saw its share slip to 20%. Henry Ford died on April 7, 1947.
The death of Henry Ford and the end of World War II positioned the company to move aggressively to re-establish its influence in the automotive market. Ford became a significant presence on radio, with JWT putting the company into sponsorship of contemporary shows such as "Philip Marlowe" and star vehicles for Bob Crosby, Dinah Shore and, most famously, Fred Allen.
In March 1948, K&E, which had earlier won Ford's institutional account, opened offices in Kansas City, Mo.; San Francisco; and Washington to better manage Lincoln-Mercury dealer accounts it handled in those areas. It also put Lincoln-Mercury on TV in "Toast of the Town," a variety show hosted by columnist Ed Sullivan. JWT and K&E shared Ford's ad work until 1954, when the automaker signed Young & Rubicam for its Lincoln division. (In 1958, the business returned to K&E.)
When Lincoln announced the addition of the Hydramatic automatic transmission to Lincolns and Lincoln Cosmopolitans in July 1949, it launched an intensive campaign of ads in The New Yorker, Newsweek, The Saturday Evening Post and Time. Ads also appeared in 1,300 newspapers, and radio spots were used extensively.
To introduce its 1952 cars and trucks, Ford used spread ads in 54 newspapers, page ads in 6,050 newspapers, spots on more than 1,128 radio and 30 TV stations, a live presentation on Ford's NBC TV show "Ford Festival" and 13,000 outdoor posters. The campaign that followed up the Feb. 1 introduction of the new models included color magazine ads, Sunday comic sections and ads in 5,250 newspapers. Ford dealers supported the introduction with ads in 6,100 newspapers.
As Ford began to prepare for its 50th anniversary, however, the company realized it needed an image makeover. Sidney Olson, a copywriter at K&E, developed an institutional campaign for the automaker dubbed "The American Road," and by the end of 1953, Ford surpassed Chrysler in sales. Ford celebrated 1955 by introducing its legendary Thunderbird marque via JWT as a direct rival to Chevrolet's Corvette. The car sold well in its first three years, but Ford began to wonder if a growing number of American families would continue to buy the two-seater.
While credited with some of the greatest campaigns in U.S. advertising history, Ford also was responsible for one of the most fantastic marketing catastrophes-the Edsel. In the 1950s, Ford decided to introduce a new division that would market mid-priced vehicles; that division would allow Ford to compete with longtime rival GM in the mid-priced category. To develop a brand for its "E" division—the "E" stood for experimental—Ford enlisted Foote, Cone & Belding. The new division's first product was scheduled for release in 1956, the year the company went public.
In 1957, after a $250 million expenditure for development, the first Edsels—with their instantly recognizable horse-collar grilles and push-button gear selectors—rolled off the production lines.
Plans called for sales of 200,000 Edsels in 1957, but only 63,107 were driven off showroom floors. In December 1958, Ford moved Edsel from FCB to K&E, while shifting the Lincoln and Continental accounts from K&E to FCB. In October 1959, after dismal sales, the automaker dropped the Edsel completely. Explanations for the car's poor sales ranged from design problems to the choice of the vehicle's name.
Following the Edsel disaster, Ford consolidated its ad business at two shops: JWT had the Ford division and K&E handled the newly merged Lincoln-Mercury (formerly Lincoln-Edsel-Mercury) and institutional advertising.
In 1959, Ford was the U.S.' No. 4 advertiser, with advertising expenditures of $92.2 million, an increase of almost 5% over the previous year. Despite its Edsel problems, Ford sales in 1959 climbed to $5.4 billion, a 30% increase over 1958.
Ford introduced its new Falcon marque in 1959 via a 20-page advertising section in The New York Times. The supplement was handled by Ford and Sawyer-Ferguson-Walker Co., Detroit.
To introduce Ford's new economy car, the Comet, in 1961, K&E developed a campaign themed, "Fine car styling at a compact car price," which emphasized the Comet's price, styling and features. Despite the campaign, however, it took three years before Comet sales turned the corner for Mercury.
In spring 1961, Ford acquired a business that was the basis of its Autolite division. Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborn won the account and retained it until 1968. Autolite was introduced with a color page in Life in September. An eight-page color insert also broke that September in automotive trade books. A point-of-sale program supplemented the fall ads, offering a $2 model racecar kit that encouraged car owners to visit service stations for an "Autolite performance checkup."
After its introduction of the flashy T-Bird in 1955, Ford's subsequent products developed a reputation for the automaker as a seller of sturdy, economical but unexciting cars. That changed in 1964 when, under the prodding of Ford VP-General Manager Lee Iacocca, Ford Division introduced the Mustang. The Mustang was, by at least one estimate, the car that made Ford young again. JWT handled the account, which began with a focus on price. Several months after the rollout, an engine change that added more power to the car led to the creation of one of the best-remembered commercials of 1964.
"Have you heard about Henry Foster?" asked a gossipy old lady in the spot, as a quiet Henry emerges from his antique shop with his lunch bag. "Something's happened to Henry," voice-over intoned, as Henry ditched his derby for a sporty plaid hat and his glasses for racing goggles. "A Mustang's happened to Henry," said a younger, more seductive voice, as Henry drove off in his new Mustang. In a closing shot, a herd of wild horses galloped across the screen.
In February 1966, Ford again changed its agency assignments, relieving K&E of Ford's $20 million corporate account and awarding it to Grey Advertising. Ford executives explained that they wanted to keep corporate advertising with an agency that did not manage any of its individual products. K&E retained the Lincoln-Mercury business, along with 19 dealer accounts, the British Ford line and Ford Motor Credit Co.
The appointment gave Grey a foothold in the automobile market, along with $10 million in billings. One advantage Grey had was a strong overseas presence, and Ford was preparing to expand internationally. Ford also intensified its use of TV advertising, which was handled by Grey.
Ford doubled the number of network TV spots it purchased in fall 1968 in support of the 1969 model year. That year Ford spent $90.3 million in advertising, making it the No. 9 advertiser in the U.S. However, the success of the automaker's compact cars slowed Ford profits, as the margin on the smaller cars was less. The automaker's slogan was, "We listen better."
In July 1971 Ford pulled its small-car advertising from JWT and gave the account, with spending of about $18 million, to Grey. Also in 1971, Ford introduced the Pinto, a model that created significant image problems for the automaker later in the decade.
The 1970s were a difficult time for U.S. carmakers, faced with an energy crisis and inroads made by foreign carmakers. Ford and the other U.S. automakers shifted their ad emphasis to smaller cars, which got better gas mileage, and went head-to-head with their overseas rivals. Mavericks and Mustangs were among the chief beneficiaries of an ad strategy that called for doubling the number of small cars built from 1972 to 1974, to 2 million. In fall 1974, Ford (along with rival Volkswagen) gave in to demands by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission and began to include fuel-efficiency claims in advertising.
At the same time, Ford embarked on a program of expansion overseas. It established Ford Lio Ho Motor Co. in 1972 as a joint venture in Taiwan, five years after it set up Ford of Europe. In 1973, the automaker opened Ford Espana, with a sales office in Madrid, and three years later opened an assembly and manufacturing complex near Valencia.
In June 1975, Ford set out to promote three new small cars that could get 34 miles per gallon. Rather than wait until the traditional beginning of the model year, Ford advertised the subcompact Pinto, Mustang II and Mercury Bobcat via a $15 million campaign with heavy emphasis on fuel-efficiency. That same year, Ford ended its association with Grey, which closed its Detroit office following the account loss.
Ford ran into serious image problems when it was forced to recall more than 1 million Pintos from the 1971 to 1976 model years because of fuel-tank problems. The Pinto jinx persisted in Brazil—the word means "tiny male genitals" in Portuguese slang—and the automaker was forced to replace all Brazilian Pinto nameplates with new ones that read "Corcel."
The success of Ford's Mustang made Mr. Iacocca an auto industry star, but nonetheless in 1978 Mr. Ford fired him, reportedly because their two strong personalities clashed. Mr. Iacocca's celebrity enabled him to quickly move to Chrysler Corp., where he set about changing the struggling automaker's advertising. In March 1979, K&E, a longtime Ford agency, unceremoniously resigned the $75 million Lincoln-Mercury account in order to take on Mr. Iacocca and Chrysler. Ford moved Lincoln-Mercury back to Y&R. That same year, Ford acquired a 25% stake in Toyo Kogyo, the Japan-based marketer of Mazda vehicles.
In March 1980, Ford, in a major departure from tradition, tapped a non-family member to run the company for the first time. President-CEO Philip Caldwell was named chairman and Henry Ford II retired as a company officer, though he remained on the board of directors. (He died in September 1987.)
During the 1980s and 1990s, Ford continued to expand internationally. In 1986, the company acquired a share of Korean automaker Kia Motors Corp. The following year Ford bought 75% of Aston Martin Lagonda, purchasing the remaining shares in 1994. In February 1989, Ford bought the U.K.'s venerable Jaguar, and in March 1999, it acquired Volvo Cars.
As its international business grew, Ford began to whittle its agency roster down to three primary shops worldwide: Ogilvy & Mather, Y&R and JWT. In July 1987, O&M picked up the Ford parts and services division from Y&R, the first U.S. account it handled for the automaker. O&M earlier succeeded JWT on Ford cars in nine European countries. By 1988, O&M had $150 million in Ford billings in the U.S. and Europe, JWT had more than $300 million in billings in 12 countries and Y&R had more than $200 million in billings, with advertising in four countries and direct marketing in nine.
Also in 1986, Ford introduced its Taurus and Mercury Sable models with designs that proved popular with car buyers.
Another image crisis
The mid-1990s was a time of global marketing focus for Ford. The Ford Division's major vehicle launches included introductions of the newly designed 1996 Taurus in a blitz estimated at $100 million. In January 1996, the division launched its 1997 F-150 pickup during Super Bowl XXX with what it said was the most expensive truck campaign in its history, estimated at $70 million.
In 1997, Ford moved U.S. media buying for all its lines and corporate advertising to a new subsidiary of JWT, Ford Motor Media. Based in Detroit, Ford Motor Media handled $1.1 billion in media buying for Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Jaguar and Mazda, in which it holds a controlling stake, as well as Ford customer service.
In January 1999, for the first time since Henry Ford II retired, a member of the Ford family again held a top leadership position at the company. William Clay Ford Jr., a great-grandson of Henry Ford, was elected chairman. At the same time, the board elected Ford Automotive Operations President Jacques Nasser president-CEO. The changes coincided with the retirement of Alexander Trotman, who had served as chairman, CEO and president during his 43 years at Ford.
In 2000, Ford acquired the U.K. automaker Land Rover. Ford consolidated the account with WPP's Y&R, Irvine, Calif., in summer 2002 without a review, moving it from Omnicom Group's GSD&M, Austin, which had won the account just months before. Y&R already handled Lincoln, Mercury and Jaguar.
William Clay Ford Jr. soon found himself dealing with Ford's worst image crisis since its Pinto woes. Tires manufactured by Bridgestone/Firestone for Ford's popular Explorer sports-utility vehicle began to disintegrate in use, resulting in some fatalities for which the vehicle was blamed. Ford began a massive recall of the tires and ran commercials in which Mr. Nasser sought to reassure Ford customers. In May 2001, however, Bridgestone ended its nearly century-old relationship with Ford amid the automaker's continuing criticism of the company's tires. In late October 2001, Mr. Ford added the title of CEO following the retirement of Mr. Nasser, who had been criticized for his handling of the Bridgestone/Firestone situation and from straying too far from Ford's core auto business.
Ford celebrated its centennial in 2003. It also dialed up its product placement and sponsorship deals with TV broadcast networks, including the popular "American Idol" and "24." Bolstered by the successful crucial launch of the newest-generation F-150 pickup in fall 2003, the automaker was getting back on track with improved quality and more stylish new vehicles.
In 2003, Ford was the No. 6 U.S. national advertiser, spending $2.2 billion, down almost 1% from 2002, according to Advertising Age.