Ford Backs Film on Legacy of Slavery

Automaker Says Its Role in Black Exodus From South Makes for Good Partnership

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DETROIT ( -- Sometimes it's just a stroke of luck that moves a film project forward.

That's the case with David Wilson, a 28-year-old man from Newark, N.J., who admits it was a "weird twist of fate" that opened the door for a documentary film he made about his ancestry to wind up on MSNBC with Ford Motor Co. and Procter & Gamble as the two sponsors.
David Wilson's journey to explore his African-American heritage led him to North Carolina, where he met an older white man (left) also named David Wilson, whose relatives had once enslaved the younger Mr. Wilson's relatives.
David Wilson's journey to explore his African-American heritage led him to North Carolina, where he met an older white man (left) also named David Wilson, whose relatives had once enslaved the younger Mr. Wilson's relatives.

Mr. Wilson started his career as a researcher for CBS News before joining the Network News Service conglomerate, where he rose to producer before leaving in 2005 to work on his documentary full time.

Argument opens doors
So how did the stars align for Mr. Wilson? An argument over a restaurant bill led to the restaurateur introducing Mr. Wilson to Byron Lewis, CEO of UniWorld Group, New York, Ford's African-American agency of record.

Mr. Wilson told Advertising Age he was skeptical when Mr. Lewis said he wanted to shop the documentary to a couple of networks, but the agency exec was able to make good on his word, landing NBC Universal's MSNBC, which will air the documentary, "Meeting David Wilson," on April 11 at 9 p.m. ET. But Mr. Lewis did more than find a network; he brought his client, Ford, to the table.

The story follows Mr. Wilson's exploration of his African-American heritage to North Carolina, where he meets an older white man of the same name whose relatives once enslaved the younger man's relatives.

The MSNBC broadcast will immediately be followed by a live 90-minute discussion of racial issues moderated by "NBC Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams with a panel that includes Tom Joyner, who is also promoting the program on his radio show.

Ford, a longtime UniWorld client, is the presenting broadcast sponsor of the documentary as well as the panel discussion, which will be held at Howard University in Washington. Both broadcasts will stream live on, where Ford will also have ad messages. P&G is an official sponsor of the documentary.

Seeing synergy
The automaker will use its four minutes of ad time during the documentary's broadcast for four separate one-minute episodes about the company's heritage with the black community and its diverse employee base today, said Crystal Greene, manager of sponsorships and diverse markets at the carmaker. Ford will re-run all four episodes during the post-show roundtable, along with four new 30-second commercials from UniWorld. She declined to reveal the cost of the deal.

Ms. Greene said Ford doesn't have product integration in the documentary, because it was already completed when the marketer inked the deal. But she said Ford's story is part of Mr. Wilson's, because his relatives moved to the North from the South to work for the company after founder Henry Ford advertised his $5-a-day assembly line wages in local newspapers back in 1914.

"We wanted to use the messages to tell the story of Ford's legacy in the African American community," she said.

Ford's spots from UniWorld will also announce a promotion offering 1,000 month-long memberships to the web service, which Mr. Wilson used to trace his roots. The spots will be under the same "Drive One" tagline as the new general-market ads from Team Detroit arriving next week.

NBC News is producing for Ford an educational video that will be in the NBC News Archive On-Demand African American Curriculum, a collection of historical video clips. The video will also be distributed to NBC's educational partner, Hotchalk, via for K-12 teachers. Lyne Pitts, a VP of NBC News, is executive producer of the project, a spokeswoman said.

Could lead to more
For Ford, the effort "establishes brand relevance" with African Americans and will be used as a basis to raise consideration for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, Mr. Lewis said. He's already discussing whether UniWorld's Ford messages from the program could live again at the regional dealer ad level. "We think this has a longer life than this current marketing campaign."

Mr. Wilson is also thinking longer-term. While he said NBC has licensed the documentary for two years in the U.S. and "several years" internationally, he and his partners, Daniel Woolsey and Barion Grant, retain ownership rights as well as home video rights. "So we are trying to work something out with that, and we'd like to have Ford involved."
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