When Jim Farley was 14, he took a job in Los Angeles far from his family. Rather than use his airline ticket to go home, he cashed it in for an older Mustang, fixed it up and drove it across the country -- without a driver's license and insurance.
It is in this adventurous spirit that Ford, where Mr. Farley today is exec VP-global marketing, sales and service, is positioning the Mustang on its 50th anniversary. Rather than pitch the vehicle on its engine or specs, Ford is focusing on Mustang as an experience -- "what it is like to be on a road trip with no agenda, no schedule, just to be free," Mr. Farley said.
The "Icon Fifty" push will be themed around the idea of passion, exploration and adventure, and for the first marketing wave the automaker is allying with what it's deemed pop culture experts -- Hard Rock Hotels & Casinos, Zagat, Mashable and ESPN the Magazine -- to identify "inspirational creatives" in different fields, many of whom have no current connection to the car.
According to Ford, these partners will "curate a list of 50 innovators and design a themed driving route" and create a "cultural road map [for consumers] to encourage them to get behind the wheel and explore."
"We want to define the next generation of pop culture," said Mr. Farley. "We want to highlight the fact that the Mustang is all about self-expression."
Mustang is key for Ford on several levels. First, it is a global launch. Despite its inconic status -- there are 600 Mustang clubs, half of them overseas -- the brand had never been sold out of the U.S. before. Second, the automaker has put a lot of weight on the muscle car's shoulders: it wants the Mustang to cast a halo over the overall Ford brand. "We want people who don't care about Ford to think better of it," he said.
Mr. Farley said that although millennials will be part of the push, there is no single target for the Mustang, which appeals to buyers of all ages. He declined to discuss the timing of Mustang's coming paid-media campaign, handled by WPP's Team Detroit. The 2015 model is arriving at dealers this month.
But he did rule out one thing: "An ad campaign on the Super Bowl doesn't feel right for Mustang."