Ford's Fiesta to Party on -- Without the Fiesta

Automaker Seeks to Maintain Buzz 'Til 2010, When Model Goes on Sale

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Now that Ford has used YouTube to raise awareness for the new Fiesta for the last six months, it faces a rather unique conundrum: What to do when the YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace and blog postings stop.

Ford handed out 100 European-spec Fiestas, along with gas cards and insurance, to 100 YouTube personalities last spring as part of a campaign dubbed "Fiesta Movement" to raise awareness for the car, which is being reintroduced next summer.

And so far those pros delivered, creating double the number of videos Ford expected. The videos attracted 3.5 million views and helped boost awareness of the car to 38% among 16- to 24-year-olds, a demo too young to remember a nameplate that left the U.S. market back in 1980.

That's comparable with two Ford models already in the U.S. market, the Edge and Flex, according to CNW Research. "It's huge in terms of where we are in our launch cycle without doing any large media buys," said Fiesta Brand Manager Sam De La Garza.

But now the program is ending and, by law, the cars have to be returned to Europe within a year to comply with emissions standards. And while there will be a "reveal" of the U.S. version in early 2010, it won't go on sale until the third quarter. How, then, to maintain the buzz of a social-media campaign without the 100 cars buzzing around the country?

Getting experimental
That's the task for Mr. De La Garza and Ford's "experiential marketing" department, which is brainstorming ideas for what he's calling "Fiesta Movement 2.0." While they haven't yet figured it out, one thing is certain: Ford will be spending a lot less on traditional media to launch the car in the first half of next year. De La Garza says the ad budgets will be 10% to 20% lower for TV, magazines and newspapers than a traditional launch.

"The traditional ways of going to market, the national spends with print and magazines and TV are definitely in the plan, but the percentages will change as we dial up the experiential and social-media front," he said.

The launch of the Fiesta posed some unique challenges for Ford. Usually, at this point in the product-launch cycle, Ford would be talking to the automotive press, blogs and car geeks about the relative technical merits. But since the nameplate never left Europe, and the U.S. version won't be materially different from cars already on the roads there, that's already old news.

Next year when the media spending kicks in, Ford will be competing against some other big spenders targeting the same demo, including the Nissan Cube and Kia Soul, as well as the Toyota Scion. But Ford has come to believe that more social, not more media spending, will be the solution.

"It really started to change the dialog about cars," Deborah Wahl Meyer, former chief marketing officer of Chrysler and now CMO of Pulte Homes, said of the campaign. "Typically it's all about numbers -- horsepower, how many doors, inches, etc. -- but in the blogs, it was a very fresh conversation, how people are using their cars today and what kind of technology helps them."

Money for bloggers
Ford had just one requirement for its YouTube drivers: Complete one "mission," or task, such as "drive until you run out of gas" per month and document it with a video. Turns out these YouTubers are a certain brand of web overachievers and Ford got twice the number of videos it bargained for, in part because the personalities used the car to boost their own followings and ad revenue from YouTube.

YouTube pro Jill Hanner, 31, said her Fiesta videos tend to do marginally better than her regular videos, which means more ad revenue from YouTube, which is placing ads across the bottom third of her videos.

"I have noticed that when I make a Fiesta video it does a little better because there are more people promoting or Twittering it or Facebooking it and adding links around," she said. "My demo is men usually 35 to 55. But I have found a new crowd of people, more like car enthusiasts."

Ford did do some small paid placements, such as a partnership with Blendtec, producer of the web show "Will It Blend?" Host Tom Dickson attempted to blend "boron steel," a key safety material in the Fiesta, then took a ride, blending random objects in the back seat of Ryan Dembroski's loaner car. Ford also tried some other gimmicks, such as making a $1 donation for each re-tweeted post on Mashable.com to its Social Media for Social Good campaign. But the results so far are telling Ford a social campaign can actually replace some paid media when the launch comes next year. "They're talking to this audience in the medium this audience likes -- and that's not necessarily expensive TV," Ms. Meyer said. "The new target group online is the biggest group of new drivers since the baby boomers."

That's not great news for big media, but might be good news for some YouTube denizens who got a nice run out of a free vehicle. New York-based Ms. Hanner, for one, is eager to sign on to whatever Ford comes up with.

"I really love the car, though it's kind of a hassle to have in the city and drive in the city," she said. "People are always asking me questions about it and I love the attention."

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