Failure is not an option when it comes to Ford Motor Co.'s global launch of the all-new Mustang.
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic pony car, the auto maker is launching a worldwide advertising, marketing and publicity blitz around next year's rollout of the 2015 Mustang.
Over recent weeks, Ford has been using social media to whet the appetite of consumers and Mustang aficionados. On Thursday, Ford finally took the cover off the long-awaited vehicle during simultaneous media events in half a dozen cities across four continents, including Shanghai, Barcelona, Spain and Sydney, Australia.
Ford scored a publicity coup by having the cast of ABC's Good Morning America unveil it on live TV – while the anchors gushed about letting the new Mustang "out of the corral."
Allen Mulally, CEO of Ford, declared Mustang an "American Icon" that "changed the world." The simultaneous international launch strategy, he said, was an homage to Lee Iacocca, who did it for the Mustang's original debut on April 17, 1964.
There's no arguing with Mustang's place in automotive history. But the vehicle now trails General Motors' rival Chevrolet Camaro in overall sales -- and both Camaro and Chrysler's Dodge Challenger in female buyers.
Ford needs Mustang to regain its sales mojo if it's going to continue to be the heart and soul of the brand, say auto experts. And if it wants Mustang to regain sales leadership from Camaro in the small but influential pony car segment.
"This is very important. The Ford Mustang stands for the Ford brand -- along with the Ford F-Series," said Edmunds analyst Michelle Krebs. "When you think Ford, you think Mustang and F-Series pickup trucks. It is such a symbol for Ford."
From its co-starring role in Steve McQueen's "Bullitt" to R&B singer Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally," the cool, stylish hot rod has cast a halo over Ford for decades. During its heyday in the mid-1960's, Mustang sales dwarfed those of Camaro (Chevy even stopped producing the old Camaro in 2002). Over five decades, Ford sold 9 million Mustangs and never stopped making the vehicle.
But the worm has turned since Chevy re-introduced a more futuristic-looking Camaro. Camaro beat Mustang in sales from 2010-2012, according to Automotive News Data Center. That trend continued this year through November with Camaro selling 75,552 vehicles vs. Mustang's 71,459.
Camaro's No. 1 in the pony car segment despite being outspent ad-wise by Mustang. Mustang spent $44 million on advertising in 2012 vs. $10 million by Camaro, according to Kantar Media. From January through September of 2013, Mustang spent $1.7 million to Camaro's $2 million.
Team Detroit's ad campaign for Mustang is expected to really kick into high gear in 2014 as the car gets closer to showrooms. Both Ford spokesman Brian Cotter and Team Detroit declined to comment on ad strategy.
The Mustang's sleek new design, featuring a lower, wider stance is winning plaudits from auto critics. But among female and younger consumers, Edmunds is tracking some troubling numbers for Mustang.
The percentage of female registrations for Mustang (26%) this year trails both Camaro (32%) and Challenger (27%). At a time when automakers and their agencies are yammering about the need to attract younger consumers, Mustang's customer base skews older than those of its rivals.
Buyers 55 years old and over account for 38% of Mustang registrations this year vs. 29% for Challenger and 30% for Camaro, Edmunds said. Mustang ownership among the 55-and-over crowd has grown 12% over the past five years -- while 35-old-and-younger group has dropped 3%.
That's why Ford will market Mustang as a "global car" in the U.S., Europe and Asia for the first time, said Ms. Krebs. Just like Americans, consumers in those market have seen Mustang's iconic shape hundreds or thousands of times in TV and movies. Despite Anti-American sentiment, big, bold American brands such as the Mustang and Cadillac do well overseas.
According to Ad Age sibling Automotive News, Ford expects only about 10% of the Mustangs to be sold overseas. That translates to total sales outside of the core U.S. and Canadian markets of about 10,000 or less. Outside North America, IHS Automotive estimates the biggest markets for the new Mustang will be Germany, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, the Philippines, Brazil, South Korea, France and the United Kingdom.
"They won't sell it in big volumes. But it will be Ford's 'ambassador' to those markets," said Ms. Krebs.