To most Americans, auto manufacture was still a cottage industry, and Ford was but one among 89 American manufacturers calling themselves car companies that year, most of them short-lived. The first advertisement for an American car (Oldsmobile) had appeared in The Saturday Evening Post only 17 months before.
Ford's first product was the Model A, soon to be followed by the B, C and F. But these were not exactly the cheap, mass-produced workhorses that made the company's fortune. The Model B, priced at $2,000, had an engine that could crack 91 mph on a racetrack. And it was on raceways that automobiles and their builders made their reputations in the days before it occurred to them that the cars might need to be marketed.
From the beginning, Ford advertising existed on two levels. Dealers, as they began to appear, assumed much of the front-line selling through local newspaper ads. Ford itself, however, saw no need to have an ad department or staff. At the corporate level, advertising became another task assigned to business manager James Couzens, who hired the company's first ad shops-the Charles H. Fuller Agency and O.J. Mulford Advertising Co.
During its first year in business, Ford spent about $13,500 through its agencies. It also bought ads directly, and that became its preferred method. According to bookkeeping records after 1904 examined by University of Michigan history professor David L. Lewis, Ford had no further agency relationships for the next five years, when JWT was hired for a two-year stint.
Fiscal 1905 saw ad spending reach $39,513, but it dropped sharply when former circus advance man E. LeRoy Pelletier became Ford's first ad manager in 1907. Before leaving less than a year later, he put the company on a diet of inexpensive small-space ads and gave Ford its first great marketing manifesto.
"Watch the Fords go by"
Slogans already were becoming a part of auto advertising when Ford was born, and some early tags would continue for decades. Ford's first great ad slogan appeared in 1907 when the company's traffic manager, W.S. Hogue, was attending an auto race dominated by Fords and at one point remarked, "Watch the Fords go by." Mr. Pelletier knew a great line when he heard it, so "Watch the Fords go by" became, and remained into the TV era, a part of Ford advertising as well as an American cultural reference. It was the first in a line of famous Ford ad slogans that also included "Ford has a better idea" and "At Ford quality is job one."
But many of the Fords running on those early raceways were expensive displays of engineering virtuosity. With his resentment of wealth and the wealthy, Henry Ford did not go into the car business to cater to the rich. He was eager to spread the wonders of the machine age to people like himself.
And he wasn't alone. Producing low-cost cars for mass-market consumption was the mantra of any automaker of any ambition. But "Henry's ambition," wrote Ford biographer Robert Lacey in 1986, "was distinguished by generating the technology, the solid engineering innovations, to make it happen."
His first step was the Model N, a four-cylinder car introduced in 1907 for $600. It was a winner and taught Mr. Ford an important lesson: Before the Model N, he had made a variety of expensive models, which in 1906 sold a combined total of about 1,600 units. The next year, Mr. Ford concentrated on the Model N, sold more than 8,200 and scored his first $1 million year in profits.
T stands for "destiny"
In October 1908, Mr. Ford unveiled his masterpiece. It was a new design combining simplicity, sturdiness and reliability, all for $825-not exactly cheap, but an excellent value. The company was confident it had a winner and gave the Model T the most extensive promotional launch in Ford history.
In April 1908, the company followed industry custom and began publishing Ford Times, a free newsletter sent first to all Ford dealers and, after September 1910, to Ford customers and likely customers (see story on Page F-34). Over the years it became a magazine as well as an informal corporate history. As circulation grew, it began to take advertising from Ford suppliers.
The Model T, however, didn't seem to require advertising. Its existence alone was enough. With its transverse springs and flexible steel frame, it was as reliable off-road as it was on. And while this was not yet the Model T "for the multitudes," it certainly was the car rural America had been waiting for-"the 20th century equivalent of the covered wagon," according to Mr. Lacey. Within three years of its introduction, Ford's profits dwarfed those of all other carmakers combined.
Mr. Ford hitched his wagon exclusively to the Model T and ceased production on everything else. He had little choice. Within six months of the first Model T, the company was flooded with more demand that it could meet and stopped taking orders altogether.
For centuries that same dilemma-the inability to produce to meet demand-confronted all producers at some point. A few visionaries had managed to surmount the production dilemma, mostly in crafts and light industry. But the Model T was composed of some 5,000 parts, mostly iron and steel. And they all seemed to be crashing headlong into the same roadblock.
disassembly into assembly
Mr. Ford looked to innovations in production to solve that problem, and he was particularly interested in the production model being used by Chicago meat packer Gustavus Swift. Mr. Swift's main production problem was not assembly but disassembly. In one of the great labor time-and-motion breakthroughs, he set up a system in which cattle carcasses were carried along a conveyor while individual butchers, standing in place, performed specific standardized cuts.
Mr. Ford and his engineering team recognized that Mr. Swift's principles could also serve construction, so in 1912 Ford manufactured its last cars under the old workshop method. That system over five years had pushed Model T production to 78,400.
The following year Ford moved its magneto assembly to the world's first industrial assembly line. Productivity shot up so fast that the chassis people found themselves deluged with magnetos. To keep up, chassis assembly was moved to its own line. In 1913, 189,088 Model T's chugged out of the Highland Park, Mich., factory. In 1914, 230,788.
After the introduction of the Model T, Ford had no competition. It didn't need the phony snob appeal that Ford's early advertising and publicity tried to attach to it through association with such public figures as Eddie Foy, assorted dukes and princes and even Woodrow Wilson. The celebrity endorsement was one of five basic types of appeals Ford made in its early advertising, the others being driver testimonials, racing competitions, mechanical reason-why appeals and price.
Price is king
Price was by far the most powerful selling point and the only one in which Mr. Ford put stock. He knew his buyers well. For every dollar the price of his Model T dropped, he once calculated, another thousand people became Ford owners.
In 1910, General Motors Corp. became the first advertiser to spend $1 million in support of its products, while Ford spent barely a tenth that amount. But advertising could not be completely ignored, even by Henry Ford. To make the task as financially painless as possible, Ford headquarters made it clear to its dealers that it expected them to advertise regularly, regardless of how backed-up they might be on their orders or how little the company chose to advertise.
In 1910, after five years without an agency, Ford hired J. Walter Thompson Co., which had set up a Detroit office two years before under Charles Brownell. The local press called him a "nationally known advertising figure."
But not even Mr. Brownell could impose consistency upon Ford advertising. In 1912, Ford dismissed JWT and turned to another agency, Glen Buck of Chicago. That lasted about a year, after which Mr. Brownell joined Ford as ad manager in 1914. Among his early acts was to hire the MacManus Agency, albeit briefly. He then turned to the Power, Alexander & Jenkins Agency, a relationship that lasted though 1916. For each shop, the Ford business proved unrewarding because Mr. Brownell slashed the automaker's ad spending, then eliminated it completely from 1917 to 1923.
One reason for Mr. Brownell's action was Ford's war production schedule in 1917-18. Another was the high demand for the Model T. But in addition there was the Ford dealer network, which shelled out $3 million a year to advertise through its dealer associations. Every week, for instance, The New York Times Sunday auto section carried a quarter-page ad for "Ford, the universal car" signed by 25 separate Ford dealers in Manhattan, Queens and the Bronx.
In 1914, Ford announced the first rebate sale in automobile history, promising a refund of $50 to every buyer of a new Ford if sales exceeded 300,000 over the following year. In addition to the rebate, Ford reduced the base price another $60. Over the next year, more than $15 million in rebate checks were mailed to new Ford purchasers, buying the company many times that amount in owner loyalty and good will.
That same year, Mr. Ford bestowed his largesse on his employees in an equally precedent-shattering gesture that catapulted him to national presence and make his name a social force. In January he announced the $5, eight-hour workday for nearly all Ford workers. At a single press conference, he more than doubled prevailing wages, cut hours by 20% and revolutionized American labor-management relations. That same year, ground was cleared along the marshes of the River Rouge a few miles west of Detroit in Dearborn for the vast production facility that became the flagship of a Ford factory empire that already extended to England, France, Ireland, Italy, Brazil, South Africa and Mexico.
Senator Ford ... almost
Mr. Ford's growing stature made him such a public person that he found his name entered in several state presidential primaries in 1916. It amused him at first, then awakened him to possibilities. In 1918 he ran an unsuccessful campaign for a U.S. Senate seat from Michigan. Out of 429,000 votes cast, he came within 2,200 of becoming Sen. Henry Ford.
After the election, Mr. Ford scathingly denounced his Republican opponent, saying he was part of an "influential gang of Jews," a disquieting notion coming from a man of his influence and prestige. All the things Henry Ford disliked seemed to converge in his image of Jews, in whom he saw a sinister conspiracy poised to infiltrate American institutions and rule the world. In 1918, he bought a small local newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, which he used as a platform to explain his ideas. In January 1919, he turned the presidency of Ford over to his 25-year-old son, Edsel.
He spelled out his position in 91 Independent articles beginning with "The International Jew: The World's Problem." Even bigots blinked at the remarkable logic by which both American capitalism and Russian Bolshevism became, for Henry Ford, secret tools of the Jewish conspiracy. The plot was laid bare, he explained, in a secret 1900 document, "the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion."
The articles were compiled in a book, "The International Jew," translated into any language with a taste for its contents, and redistributed globally by others who shared Mr. Ford's views. He later recanted, the Independent was dissolved and "The International Jew" withdrawn from publication in 1927.
Henry Ford's outspoken anti-Semitism resulted in a public relations burden his company bore for decades. Edsel Ford began the long process of trying to live down the sins of his father in 1941 when he ordered substantial advertising dollars targeted to Jewish publications. After World War II, the company extended highly favorable credit terms to Israel-so much so that Ford drew protests from the Arab League in 1951.
An industrial empire
By 1925, the River Rouge factory surpassed the old Highland Park plant, which declined rapidly after the Model T was replaced by the Model A in 1928. The company branched out in other directions as well, buying up sources of raw materials and parts to become among the world's first totally vertically integrated industrial manufacturers. Steel and glass for the cars were manufactured at River Rouge. The company bought a railroad, owned a plantation in Brazil that supplied rubber for its tires and owned a fleet of Great Lakes ships that hauled iron ore and coal to River Rouge. It invested in airplane production and in 1926 began producing the Ford Tri-Motor, which became the standard commercial aircraft until replaced in the '30s by the Douglas DC-3.
By 1925 other manufacturers were catching up to the Model T's price-slashing strategy while providing increasingly attractive alternatives whose styling moved with the times. The Model T, however, stood pat. It sales were still huge by comparison to Chevrolet, but the figures were falling while Chevy's were growing. When Ford announced further price cuts, the sales trend continued its decline. It was a wake-up call.
In August 1923, Edsel Ford hired Detroit's Brotherton Co. as Ford's ad agency. By the mid-'20s, Ford had become one of the nation's biggest advertisers. "Pride of ownership" became a growing theme of Ford advertising, but with the rising level of competition, its message was out of tune with the consumer mind-set. The Model T had become a commodity, and its monopoly was winding down.
Coming of the Lincoln
In February 1922, Ford acquired the bankrupt Lincoln Automobile Co. for $8 million, improving its luxury styling and introducing a prestige-oriented ad campaign in such tony magazines as Vogue, Town & Country and Vanity Fair. Ford, through Brotherton Co., spent about $400,000 on Lincoln advertising in 1923-24.
At the time Ford advertising was financed out of a fund sustained by a $3-per-car advertising charge assessed on every Model T sale, a policy that made advertising a consequence of sales rather than the other way around. With Lincoln sales small compared to the Model T, dealers revolted at a policy that financed Lincoln advertising at the expense of Ford.
In January 1924, the company moved its advertising from Brotherton, splitting it between McKinney, Marsh & Cushing and Critchton & Co., which worked on the Ford and Lincoln business as separate accounts with separate budgets. In June 1926, however, Henry Ford himself dismissed McKinney and ordered a stop on all national advertising for the Model T.
Edsel Ford tapped N.W. Ayer & Son to prepare the launch of the Model A, establishing what became the company's first lengthy-though often rocky-agency relationship.
In December 1927, the Model A was finally unveiled after an introductory countdown involving page ads in 2,000 newspapers at a cost of $1.3 million. The car was a huge marketing success, and within a month Ford had orders for 727,000 vehicles, far more than the company could produce. But Ford's failure to produce enough Model A's to match demand helped Chevy surpass Ford for the first time during the Model A's crucial first year.
Ford had built a great car-the best ever, some still maintain. Its sales accounted for 34% of the U.S. market, a showing that briefly gave Ford the sales lead over Chevy in 1929 and outsold the entire GM line in 1930. But it also faced unparalleled competition. The Model A did not repeat the history of the T, and Ford produced 4,320,446 Model A's before shutting down production in 1931 after less than four years.
With the New York Auto Show looming in December, Mr. Ford had a surprise up his sleeve. "What Ford will do in 1932 remains the big question mark," Advertising Age reported in late December: "... Henry, as usual, is pleased to assume the sphinx role. However, those who have scanned the figures for the first 10 months of 1931 and discovered that Chevrolet is still leading Ford believe a sensational product and merchandising plans will shortly be released."
That surprise turned out to be the legendary Ford V-8.
At the end of March 1932, after weeks of strategic silence calculated to whet public interest, the V-8 was officially introduced in a campaign via Ayer in 200 big-city dailies. People entered showrooms out of curiosity and were excited by what they saw. But the Depression was deepening. The V-8 produced half the consumer turnout that the Model A had and sold about 800,000 units in its first two years, handing the company a loss of $88 million.
Another advertising freeze
In February 1933, Ford ad manager Fred Black announced that "not one line of advertising" would be placed on behalf of the new Ford large 8." While Chevy was moving into radio with Jack Benny, the burden of paid advertising at Ford again fell to its dealers and dealer associations.
What advertising Ford ran was limited to personal messages, commentaries and "letters" placed by Ayer in newspapers but written in-house in Henry Ford's name. Beginning in May 1933, he wrote that the way to national recovery was for America to "go back to the farm." Later, on the other hand, he said the country must look forward, adding, "thanks for that belongs to President [Franklin] Roosevelt."
But Mr. Ford soon became a bitter enemy of FDR, the New Deal and organized labor. He opposed any administration move to intervene in European affairs, was listed as a member of the isolationist America First organization and in 1938 became the first American honored with the German government's Grand Cross award.
In July 1933, Ford made its first appearance on regional network radio on NBC as sponsor of "Ford Dealers of the Air Present Lum & Abner." The program had been developed by Critchfield & Co., a Chicago ad shop, and sold to the Ford dealer network.
In December 1933, Ford announced it would return to national newspaper advertising to launch its 1934 models. It even staged a huge media preview. Henry Ford himself made the announcement from his engineering laboratory in Dearborn over "the largest telephone hookup in history" to 10,000 Ford dealers simultaneously. It was the first time Mr. Ford had spoken to his entire dealer group. The same year, his industrial show, the Ford Exposition of Progress, opened in New York; it ran for two weeks and drew almost 2.3 million visitors, according to The New York Times.
Ford on the air
While McCann-Erickson handled promotion for the Ford exposition, Ayer prepared for Ford's first corporate entry into network radio. The "Ford V-8 Show" got under way in February 1934. It was built around Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians, whose sedate music was enough to Mr. Ford's liking that he paid $10,000 a week to buy them away from Old Gold cigarettes.
In the summer of 1936, swing bandleader Tommy Dorsey replaced Mr. Waring, and the "Ford V-8 Show," perhaps with the sanction of Edsel Ford, received an infusion of the sort of jazz the elder Mr. Ford hated. Ayer also handled Lincoln's return to a regular ad schedule, which included back-cover buys in Time, Business Week and Fortune.
Largely on the strength of the Fred Waring program, Ford had become the third-largest advertiser in network radio within two years, spending more than $2 million. This led to a Ford-GM confrontation for airtime attention, which Advertising Age headlined a "feud via radio." Soon after, GM retired to fight elsewhere.
Ayer continued producing the "Ford V-8 Show" through the end of 1936. The "Ford Sunday Evening Hour," introduced in 1934, marched on despite its staid format and never came near beating the competing programming.
Filling the product gap
The 1930s were a difficult decade for Ford, which found itself competing not just with Chevy but also Plymouth, a low-price make introduced by Chrysler Corp. in 1928. When J. Stirling Getchell Inc. won the Plymouth business with a campaign that invited customers to "Look at all three," Ford found itself in a three-way battle.
At the high end, Ford had Lincoln to compete against Cadillac. In 1935, it introduced a lower-price Lincoln called the Zephyr, whose initial popularity diluted the elite appeal of the nameplate. To revive its prestige, in 1939 Ford unveiled the Lincoln Continental, a lavish European-style design overseen by Edsel Ford (see story on Page F-48).
The younger Mr. Ford also recognized a danger to Ford inherent in the gap between the top-price Ford (at $895) and the basic Lincoln (at $1,295), an opening GM's Buick and Oldsmobile brands and Chrysler filled. To address that void, Ford in October 1938 introduced the first 95-horsepower Mercury. While it got off to a peppy start, with sales of more than 65,000 in its first year, it was not enough to save Ford from ending the decade a poor No. 3 among the "Big Three" automakers.
Maxon, McCann move in
Ayer, whose relationship with Ford had become tense, saw its fortunes decline along with those of the automaker. The first shoe dropped in 1940, when Ford named Detroit's Maxon Inc. as agency for both the Lincoln Zephyr and Mercury business. While no one doubted Ayer's competence, Maxon's gain was a mirror image of Ayer's loss.
The previous May, Mary Elizabeth Bryant had married Harry Wismer, who was then working in a small Philadelphia agency. But Ms. Bryant was no ordinary bride. She was a favorite niece of Henry Ford, who decided the perfect wedding gift for the new couple would be the Lincoln-Mercury account. Word passed to Maxon that a key job for Mr. Wismer, 27, would mean that Ford business would follow, and the groom became an instant VP in change of the Lincoln-Mercury business.
The other shoe dropped in October. Since 1933, McCann-Erickson had been gathering up local and regional Ford dealership groups and developing a nationwide capacity to handle the business, which by 1940 had mushroomed, all of it outside the control of Ford headquarters. The combined dealer-and-corporate account was worth about $6 million, half of which McCann already handled.
Among the first Ford assignments McCann worked on was the last new-product introduction of the pre-war era-the long rumored Ford 6, a slightly cheaper version of the V-8. The ads slipped into the marketplace quietly late in the year, along with the announcements of the 1942 models.
Early in 1942, Ford assembled the last passenger car it produced for more than three years. During the war, the company had essentially one customer. As the third-largest government contractor-after GM and Curtiss-Wright-Ford poured thousands of Jeeps, armored vehicles, trucks, tanks and Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines into the war effort.
The most-publicized Ford enterprise of the war, however, was its four-engine, B-24 Liberator bomber production operation at Willow Run west of Detroit. Willow Run had a mile-long production line that was the largest manufacturing facility under one roof in the world. By June 1945, Ford had produced 8,685 of the workhorse B-24s.
Henry Ford rides again
On May 26, 1943, Edsel Ford died of cancer at age 49 and Henry Ford, at 80 and with a serious stroke behind him, announced that he was taking over the presidency of the company. With a war to win and a vast company to administer, Mr. Ford continued to have as his right-hand man longtime confidante Harry Bennett, who had led the company's bloody resistance to the union movement in 1937 and who was widely disliked and distrusted both within the company and outside. But Henry Ford was not about to let go of either the gun-toting Mr. Bennett or the company.
Mr. Ford's authority extended to such matters as advertising. He was uneasy with Ford ads that associated the company with war production and victory-the kind of ads Maxon was doing. He also intervened in the agency's radio work. In June 1943, Maxon proposed to replace "Watch the World Go By" with a music program featuring bandleader Paul Whiteman. When Mr. Ford heard the audition record, he rejected it-perhaps remembering Whiteman as "the king of jazz."
In December 1943, Ford canceled its newscast sponsorship and filled out its ABC contract with a pop music program built around Tommy Dorsey. Mr. Ford agreed, and Mr. Dorsey signed a 13-week, $130,000 deal to start in January. Days before the first show, though, Mr. Ford reversed himself again, and "Watch the World Go By" muddled on. The decision cost Ford $75,000 to buy out Mr. Dorsey.
Enter J. Walter Thompson Co.
Again, Mr. Ford initiated the decision to switch shops. On Dec. 1, 1943, the company summarily fired McCann and Maxon and consolidated its entire account at JWT's Chicago office-"effective immediately." In March 1944, JWT turned in its first series of institutional newspaper placements, whose strategy was to move away from war production and resell the reputation of Ford cars. Testimonials focused on the reliability of pre-war Fords and how they performed under wartime conditions. In November, JWT launched the famous "There's a Ford in your future"-a line that would be used in other campaigns as well for many years.
Ford billings grew during the war, but Mr. Ford remained a presence whose tastes JWT could not disregard. His music preferences made it hard for the agency to mount a competitive Ford presence in radio in a desirable time period. Through 1944 and '45 Mr. Ford took a special interest in the "Greenfield Village Chapel Service" Sunday evenings. Because it competed against Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, who enjoyed a huge following, he was probably one of the few listening.
In July 1945, the first Ford passenger car in more than three years rolled off the line. That same month jitters rolled through JWT when Ford announced it was hiring Kenyon & Eckhardt as a second agency although, for the time being, its role was limited to a short-lived revival of the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour."
Henry II takes over
If Henry Ford's interference in advertising was an annoyance to JWT, his mere presence was a growing and potentially critical danger to the war effort in Washington's view. Unlike JWT, however, Washington had a choice of options that ranged from seizing the company outright to forcing a change in management to Edsel Ford's 26-year-old son, Henry Ford II, a naval ensign. In August 1943 Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox ordered Henry II honorably discharged and sent back to Detroit.
He returned to find a company entangled in intrigues, alliances and plots, and a failing grandfather prepared to sabotage his succession. Modern financial controls and accounting systems were non-existent, and a 1920s management structure could not longer support a 1943 corporation. With the buildup for D-Day and the invasion of Europe looming, the Pentagon was gravely concerned that "a senile old man" (biographer Robert Lacey's phrase) might be running one of America's largest defense contractors. In April 1944, Henry Ford II was named exec VP.
In September, Advertising Age reported a revitalized Ford marketing team headed by Jack Davis, whom the elder Mr. Ford had nearly fired in 1939. In a story on Ford's postwar planning, Ad Age reported "no room for doubt that the company is definitely set on a goal nothing short of sales leadership in the 'Big Three' group and domination of at least 25% of the postwar market..."
But the founder still held on and intrigues continued. Finally, Edsel Ford's widow, Eleanor, wielded the ultimate threat-selling her stock, which came to more than 40% of Ford equity. On Sept. 20, 1945, less than three weeks after the end of the war, Henry Ford grudgingly stepped down. The board made Henry Ford II president the next day. The patriarch died April 7, 1947, at 83, properly honored for the glories he had accomplished and their impact on American civilization.
Research & reconversion
In 1944, Henry Ford II commissioned an extensive market research study to sound out public perceptions of the Ford brand. While the company's image as an industrial powerhouse and a good employer was remarkably positive, Mr. Ford learned by October that the Ford consumer base was "the poor, including Negroes, the farmers, and the people in the higher age brackets" while the GM base included "the well-to-do and the young and the city dwellers...[the ones] who normally set long-term purchasing trends...the style setters." Getting the "style setters" without sacrificing the base became a long-term Ford goal in the postwar years-a goal that targeted its chief nemesis, Chevrolet.
Oct. 26, 1945, was national "V-8 Day," when the '46 Fords were unveiled in ads in daily newspapers across the country. Interest was so great that 10 million people stormed 6,000 Ford dealerships. If advertising was not needed to stimulate demand in 1945, it certainly was necessary to defend market share. Ford levied a $10 fee on every sale, $8 of which was earmarked for dealer advertising and $2 for promotion. Based on sales projections, the company expected $12.5 million in local dealer advertising alone.
With the demise of the "Ford Sunday Evening Hour" in 1946 and a weak Tuesday evening CBS show with Bob Crosby on its hands, Ford's network presence needed a revamping. The JWT radio department began casting about for a replacement for Mr. Crosby and landed Dinah Shore. She was signed by Ford for a show to begin in September and budgeted to lure top name guests, but she remained with Ford for only a season. Eight years later, she began a 15-minute simulcast program on NBC radio and TV for Chevrolet.
The "Whiz Kids"
Of all the dividends from World War II, the most far-reaching may have been the methodical systems of analysis and measurement that became the core of modern management science. Coordinating unprecedented production demands to supply a vast global military complex and bringing the right information to bear on tactical and strategic troop movements required oversight and management that American capitalism had not imagined before the war.
Among those who recognized that war had become far too complex to be left to generals and politicians was an assistant to the Secretary of War, Robert Lovett, who needed a brilliant numbers man. He found one in Charles "Tex" Thornton, who set up a small office and began converting the Air Corps' then-haphazard fact-gathering into a daily balance sheet of available resources precise to the last plane, pilot and shell casing.
By the end of the war, Mr. Thornton was a colonel and had gathered an elite group of nine numbers-driven "whiz kids" who shaped statistical measurement into a tool that could make performance into more than the sum of its parts. It was exactly the kind of tool Henry Ford II was looking for in 1945. Mr. Thornton offered the company his entire brain trust as a package deal, all 10 men at salaries ranging from $8,000 to $12,000. Mr. Ford accepted and the Thornton team, which included the later-to-be-famous Robert S. McNamara (see accompanying story), went to Detroit, described only as "a group responsible to the president on special projects." The modern Ford Motor Co. was born.
Postwar ad strategy
As the old Ford-Harry Bennett regime was eliminated, JWT prospered. In the summer of 1946, the agency's position was strengthened when Maxon resigned its dealer accounts and JWT picked up the entire Ford business. There were doubts about the future of dealer-driven advertising, however. The 1945 projections of $12.5 million in dealer spending never materialized, mostly because production shortfalls failed to generate the needed cash.
As the auto business struggled with reconversion, the TV industry was growing. In 1946, Ford entered the new medium. Ford TV activity included sponsoring home games of the New York Yankees, Columbia University football and a package of Madison Square Garden events. It also sponsored Northwestern University football games in Chicago on the city's only station. But in 1946 those were only experimental efforts.
Radio was still the medium that counted most, and Ford had yet to score a major hit. So in 1947, the automaker handed K&E all of its network billings. When the agency proposed Ford pick up a CBS offering called "My Friend Irma," Mr. Ford vetoed it. He picked instead "Ford Showroom" starring Meredith Willson, which the dealers managed to kill after three months. Next came the one-hour "Ford Theater," offering Sunday dramatizations of literary works. It brought high prestige but low ratings.
If the company could not build a top-rated show, it would buy one. At that point JWT came to the rescue with one of radio's crown jewels, "The Fred Allen Show." Mr. Allen was at the peak of his popularity, and his Sunday evening time slot was a dream.
But two months after Ford Dealers of America took over the Allen show, ABC launched a tacky give-away show to compete head-to-head with Mr. Allen's program. Almost immediately "Stop the Music" with Bert Parks became a national sensation. Ford felt the impact just as fast, as Mr. Allen's ratings tumbled. After one more season, both Ford and Mr. Allen abandoned network radio.
The company needed a modern Ford, and the early postwar models, while low-slung and without prewar running boards, didn't make the desired statement. The breakthrough came in June 1948 when the '49 Ford line was displayed in New York. Its radical departure from earlier designs pushed Ford sales well over 1 million in 1950, although not enough to overtake Chevrolet.
There were further agency reassignments as well, but none more important than the shift of Ford corporate and Lincoln-Mercury business to Kenyon & Eckhardt in 1948, a change decreed by Henry Ford II.
The package brought $5 million into K&E, according to Advertising Age, and the agency added offices in San Francisco; Kansas City, Mo.; and Washington. The corporate account produced another longtime Ford advertising theme, "Ford has a better idea," a line later expanded and included in JWT's Ford automobile campaigns.
"Toast of the Town"
In June 1948, Lincoln-Mercury and K&E took a flier in the emerging medium of TV. CBS planned a one-hour Sunday night variety show hosted by Broadway columnist Ed Sullivan called "Toast of the Town." Lincoln-Mercury was in on the ground floor of what became a landmark program. Within six years, Mr. Sullivan commanded a weekly audience of 47 million. An elegant actress named Julia Meade became the voice and face of Lincoln-Mercury for the next decade on the program. In the mid-'50s Ford bought into the Sullivan show on an alternating week basis.
While K&E was making Lincoln-Mercury a star on TV, JWT brought Ford its first major network hit a few years later. "Mr. Peepers" was a live TV sitcom about a mild-mannered science teacher played by Wally Cox. It was also the most unlikely of hits when Ford bought it as a summer replacement for its "Ford Festival" variety show in 1952. Scheduled to disappear in September, it returned in October and became one of TV's first great sleepers as viewers became absorbed in the courtship between Peepers and the equally shy school nurse, played by Pat Benoit. In May 1954 their characters' on-screen marriage became a national fantasy of romantic fulfillment.
"It's just possible," Advertising Age noted in 1950, "that Ford will be found to have lavished more money on experimenting in television than any other sponsor." Ad Age was referring to the unprecedented concept of sponsoring important American movies on TV, classics like "Stagecoach" and "I Married a Witch," which Ford presented in the "Ford Film Playhouse" on NBC. "The result," Ad Age wrote, "puts one in the very best of moods for a commercial, [which] Ford is careful to make most friendly and ingratiating."
Ford's first major TV venture was "Ford Theater Hour," a monthly extension of the radio series that ran from 1948 to 1951. But JWT made Ford a cultural force in TV in the '50s as sponsor of "Ford Star Jubilee," a series of big- budget specials-"spectaculars" in the hype of the time."
Ford also sponsored "Kukla, Fran & Ollie" and bandleader Kay Kyser. "Tennessee" Ernie Ford, after scoring a huge hit record called "Sixteen Tons" in 1956, hosted "The Ford Show" for five seasons.
The biggest TV splurge of the decade was the "Ford 50th Anniversary Show," a $500,000, two-hour parade of the Ford half-century, airing in 114 cities on NBC and CBS simultaneously on June 15, 1953. Viewership was overwhelming, with ratings from 10 major markets indicating that a whopping 92.5% of all sets in use were tuned in.
In 1953, the company spent $29.2 million, making it the No. 5 U.S. advertiser, and 84% of that spending went into newspapers and magazines.
Ford moved into the 1950s with a succession of models and ad themes, all with the goal of dethroning Chevrolet from its top position. Ford sales broke the 1 million-unit mark in 1950 but still trailed Chevy by about 350,000. The '51 Fords were introduced with the taglines "When you buy for the future, you buy Ford" and "You can pay more, but you can't buy better." In '52 the gap had narrowed to 100,000. And by 1954, out of a total 2.9 million volume, a shift of about 8,500 sales would have put Ford ahead.
Ford was looking to the 1960s and beginning to lay plans for an expanded line of models and makes. Cars were no longer transport vehicles, they had become objects of desire in the same way high-fashion knock-offs were-for their personality, feeling, character-above all what they communicated to the world about their owners.
To some extent Ford followed GM. When the Corvette came out in 1953, Ford responded with the Thunderbird, a sporty two-seater that attracted more attention than customers. But to take on GM beyond the usual Ford-Chevy face-off was a formidable task. GM had a product line with total continuity across the price spectrum. The Ford family had gaps in the mid- and upper-middle price ranges, with only one marque, Mercury, to complete against Pontiac, Buick and Oldsmobile. Moreover, there was a $700 void between the top Mercury and the bottom Lincoln where Ford had nothing to offer.
Introducing the Edsel
Since 1949 the company had thought about extending its reach, and planning began for a second medium-price car. Only a new division with a fresh image stood a chance. In spring 1955 the "E" division was set up to develop a new make. To distance the E division from its sister groups, Ford in 1955 invited 12 agencies to discuss a possible assignment. Foote, Cone & Belding ultimately won the big account that still had no name. Of more than 18,000 words considered, "Edsel" was selected.
FCB received the Edsel name and went to work on an account expected to spend about $14 million. Ford's total ad spending was $88.6 million in 1956, and $103.5 million in 1957. The country got its first full look at the Edsel on the biggest TV special of the season, starring Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and Rosemary Clooney. A chorus of singers proclaimed "This is the Edsel, this is the Edsel" as the car rotated on a curtained platform.
The ratings were better than Edsel's sales. By the end of 1957, volume hit only 50,393, far short of expectations. Four months after its introduction, Edsel was combined with Mercury and Lincoln to form the M-E-L Division. In the first six months of 1958, sales sank to 8,522 and finished the year at about 30,000.
In December, Ford moved Edsel to K&E and Lincoln-Mercury to FCB. But within a year it was the end of the line for both FCB and Edsel. In October 1959 Ford handed Lincoln-Mercury back to K&E, which went on to make Mercury "the sign of the cat." In November the company ceased Edsel production after making 110,847 units.
Detroit was on the verge of a revolution triggered by the appeal of smaller European cars, particularly Volkswagen, in which Ford took a leadership position. It was not a prospect the industry relished; small cars meant small profits. In fall 1959, that began to change.
Ford introduced its first compact model, the Falcon, which competed against Chevy's Corvair. By yearend Falcon sales were nearly 100,000. In March 1960 Mercury introduced the Comet, essentially an upscale Falcon. Ford's compact line became a stunning success. In its first full sales year, Falcon became the third-best-selling car in America, just behind perennial leaders Chevy and Ford; together with the Comet, it captured a 10.5% share of total units sold. In July 1960, Falcon and Comet production made up 44% of Ford's output.
Several trends were heading toward a convergence that would put Ford in a leadership position. Among them were the move to the compact car and an increasing sportiness in styling. Chevy launched the Corvair Monza and Ford followed quickly with the Falcon Futura in April 1961. The simple compact car was going upscale. Both companies introduced bucket seats to the mass market. Ford described its Futura as a "compact cousin to the Thunderbird," which was a clue to its ultimate dream-Thunderbird styling at a compact price.
In November 1960, a 36-year-old marketing manager, Lee Iacocca, became the youngest person ever appointed general manager of Ford Division. Mr. Iacocca targeted the youth market, which he knew was coming fast, and he believed it would respond to an affordable sports car.
No one watching TV on Thursday night, April 16, 1964, could avoid seeing the first Ford commercials for the Mustang. JWT bought out three simultaneous programs that night-"Hazel," "Perry Mason" and the "Jimmy Dean Show." An ad in TV Guide and newspapers proclaimed, "The most exciting thing you will see on television tonight is a commercial."
One hot car
Priced at $2,368, the Mustang was an abstraction "of the trappings of privilege" at a popular price, according to one writer, a T-bird for the masses that practically sold itself-though Ford and JWT took no chances on that. They bought up 25 network shows during May and blanketed the top magazines and major newspapers with print ads. Not since the Model T had America seen anything like the Mustang, an affordable sports buggy with a hot-car panache. In a single week in August, 100,000 Mustangs were sold.
In an introductory TV spot, a prissy "Henry Foster" locks up his antique store, replaces his glasses with a set of goggles and undergoes a transformation. "Something's happened to Henry," someone says. "A Mustang's happened to Henry," answers another.
The Mustang had many midwives but only one father, Lee Iacocca. Among his trophies was membership in that exclusive club who find themselves on the covers of Time and Newsweek in the same week. In April 1969, he delivered the Maverick, among Detroit's most successful responses to the import compacts and almost as big a seller as the Mustang.
The ultra-light, subcompact Pinto was already in development according to his specifications-a 2,000-pound car to sell for $2,000. And he reasserted Ford's place in the luxury market by introducing the Lincoln Continental Mark III, a stroke that made Lincoln profitable for the first time since Ford bought it in the '20s.
Mr. Iacocca's road to the top seemed assured, especially when President Johnson diverted Mr. Ford's energies in 1968 by appointing him head of the National Alliance of Businessmen. The chairman could not turn down the president, but he needed someone to mind the store.
Mr. Ford turned not to Mr. Iacocca but to Semon "Bunkie" Knudsen, who recently had been passed over for the presidency of GM. Mr. Knudsen came to the Ford presidency in the spring of 1968. At 55, Mr. Knudsen seemed to Mr. Iacocca to be a roadblock to his destiny for the next 10 years.
But Mr. Knudsen was gone within 18 months. In the fallout, Mr. Iacocca became one of three Ford presidents reporting to the chairman. In December 1970, that facade was abandoned, and Mr. Iacocca became the president of Ford.
Ford's top two executives became celebrities. Whether it was The Wall Street Journal or The National Enquirer, there was enough of these two colorful men to go around. They attracted almost as much attention as the cars they produced.
Advertising had its job cut out nonetheless. JWT handled the introduction of the Escort in 1968, which brought rack-and-pinion steering to Ford, and the Capri in 1969. But by the '70s, Ford was fighting a two-front war. While European cars had been the big invaders of the '60s, Japanese cars were now also on the attack. Together, their challenge was far more fundamental than matters of styling or economy. It went to quality and, beyond that, to the economic model on which American cars were built. Next to European and Japanese imports, U.S. autos generally, and Ford in particular, were increasingly perceived as rattletraps.
In June 1966, Ford split the corporate sector of its account away from K&E and tapped Grey Advertising to handle it. That was only six months after K&E produced one of its most memorable corporate campaign platforms, "Ford Has a Better Idea." Grey ran with it for several years, then kicked off a major institutional campaign in November 1970 on the theme "Ford listens better." Another famous institutional campaign followed in 1976, "Ford Wants to Be Your Car Company," using comedian Bill Cosby as presenter, but by then the corporate business had returned to K&E.
The accumulated quality record of Detroit needed more than advertising to repair it. It needed a reformation in engineering and production standards to remake the American car, and it would touch every parts supplier. The most prominent of Ford's introductions in 1970 was the subcompact Pinto (also marketed by Mercury as the Bobcat). The Pinto launch was preceded by a teaser campaign from Grey, clearly influenced by the Helmut Krone visual style of Volkswagen advertising done by Doyle Dane Bernbach. JWT handled the actual introduction and helped move an impressive 250,000 units in its first year.
But Mr. Ford was becoming irked with JWT. "[The agency] got to thinking it was part of the Ford Motor Co.," he snapped during a stockholder meeting. In July 1971, Ford's small-car advertising (Maverick, Pinto and Mustang) was moved from JWT to Grey. But in the end, JWT and K&E prevailed. In January 1975, Ford dismissed Grey and reassigned the small car and corporate business to their original places.
Meanwhile, everyone was talking about "the downsizing of the American car." The Pinto became an even more timely item when the oil embargo pushed gas prices to unheard-of levels in the fall of 1973 and the miles-per-gallon ad wars began. Mr. Iacocca hoped it might make Pinto another Mustang success story.
But the Pinto is better remembered as the car with an underprotected gas tank that initiated Ford into the consumer age and the movement it triggered for safer and cleaner cars. The Pinto's success came at a heavy back-end cost to Ford, less for the settlement costs paid out to injured drivers and passengers and the embarrassing recalls than for the public relations debacle it generated.
It cost Mr. Iacocca, too. The intrigues that lay behind his firing are complex far beyond the Pinto and generally unrelated to advertising. The differences between Messrs. Ford and Iacocca had apparently become both personal and fundamental.
Mr. Iacocca lingered at Ford until his 55th birthday in October 1978. The following month he assumed the presidency of a depressed Chrysler Corp., which had a huge and rusting inventory of cars sitting in Detroit. While he spent the next three months taking control of the company, a buzz of rumors circulated regarding advertising. When some Ogilvy executives were spotted at a Dearborn hotel, assumptions flew that Ogilvy, which handled Ford's U.K. account, was in line for some U.S. business, despite its relationship with Mercedes-Benz. Another rumor had it that Ford might move from JWT to K&E over a billing dispute, and that Lincoln-Mercury would go to Ogilvy. Mr. Ford himself disavowed any such plans.
Mr. Ford might not have spoken so quickly if he had known that Mr. Iacocca had recently enjoyed a quiet dinner with K&E president Leo-Arthur Kelmenson in New York at which Mr. Iacocca offered the adman the entire Chrysler account, then split among Young & Rubicam, BBDO and Ross Roy and valued at about $120 million. The dominos fell in swift, well-coordinated succession March 1. A note from Mr. Kelmenson was presented to Mr. Ford that morning informing him that the 34-year Ford-K&E relationship was over. Mr. Iacocca called a media conference in New York to make the announcement.
About the time Mr. Ford was digesting his note from K&E, Ed Ney, president of Young & Rubicam, was told by Chrysler that Y&R would no longer be handling the Chrysler-Plymouth account. BBDO got similar news concerning its Dodge car and truck business. There was clear logic to the notion that under the circumstances Ford might turn to Y&R, which had handled Lincoln Continental briefly in the mid '50s, or BBDO. Ford invited Y&R to pitch the account, along with Ogilvy, Grey and several others.
Y&R comes to Ford
In April 1979, Ford named Y&R for the main portion of the Lincoln-Mercury business. Wells, Rich, Greene pulled an end-run around the rest of the competition when Mary Wells Lawrence and Charlie Moss flew to Detroit, made a presentation to Mr. Ford and charmed about $12 million in corporate and miscellaneous business out of him.
Ogilvy was shut out this time, but joined the ranks of Ford agencies in July 1987 when it won Ford parts and service and enlarged its Ford overseas base from the U.K. to nine other European countries. Ogilvy's gain came at the expense of JWT, whose takeover by WPP had surprised many clients a month before.
Relative tranquility reigned in Ford's agency roster after that. Mr. Ford stepped down in 1980 (he died in September 1986), making way for a series of five non-family CEOs before William Clay Ford Jr., Henry Ford's great grandson, took the top job in October 2001.
JWT, Y&R and Ogilvy remain the company's principal shops as the company turns 100 this year. In the late 1980s, Ford expanded its agency roster to include UniWorld Group, Bravo Group and Zubi Advertising to cover specialty markets.
The ad campaign that struck the keynote for Ford advertising in the 1980s and '90s was WRG's "At Ford quality is job one," a tacit admission that product quality had slipped while at the same time making a clear commitment to improve.
And the substance of the commitment was underscored by the unorthodox introduction of the Ford Taurus in December 1985. The midsize car (and the Mercury Sable) was a breakthrough in aerodynamic styling and the company's first bid to compete with Japanese quality standards. It was followed by sweeping claims of improved production. "The best built cars and trucks in America," created by WRG, became a corporate theme begging comparison with imports; and one soon adapted to the Ford Division, "The best built American cars six years running"-claims Lee Iacocca was quick to dispute on behalf of Chrysler, whose own campaign promised "America's best-built, best-backed" cars.
"For those who think Jung"
The most remarkable triumph of pure auto advertising and marketing in the 1990s, both industry wide and at Ford, was the rise of the SUV. Ford began promoting its light trucks and what were then called recreational vehicles and campers in 1965.
JWT bought a steady flow of ads in such niche books as Argosy, Camping Guide and Field & Stream. Slowly the market grew, pushed by the Japanese, who were trying to expand an underserved sector for themselves. JWT created the enduring "Built Ford tough" theme for the Ford F-150 and its descendants.
In the early '80s the four-wheel drive SUVs began making headway. Ford had the Bronco and the smaller Bronco II. In July 1983, Advertising Age noted a 481% increase in the category for the year, though the base was "admittedly low." Although they only had a 5.9% share of the market, they were already being called "Freud wheel drives" and cars "for those who think Jung."
Today the figure runs around 52%, and nobody is mocking the category. Whereas JWT's Mustang commercials of the '60s acknowledged with a self-aware wit the transformative power of a car on its owner's fantasies of identity, the same agency's work for the Explorer over the last 15 years has proposed an even bolder statement of fantasy, but with a straight face.
If the SUV is not your fantasy, Ford has plenty more where that came from. Today the company has a 31% share of Mazda, whose advertising is handled by Doner. Among the wholly owned brands are Jaguar and Land Rover, both Y&R accounts; Volvo, which continues to work with Euro RSCG/MVBMS; and Aston Martin does its advertising in-house.
Last fall The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal profiled the 45-year-old William Clay Ford Jr. and his company. Neither has been having the best of times. Phrases such as "deeply pessimistic" and "painful reality" set a grim tone for the articles, a tone Mr. Ford did not deny.
He did not address advertising specifically. For the moment, Ford's problems lie less in marketing than in taming expenses and getting "back to basics" in terms of making cars. This is something Mr. Ford recognizes and accepts, as he has focused on building a management team he hopes can duplicate the work of the one Henry II installed in 1946.
Mr. Ford is hardly turning his back on advertising, though. Not since Mr. Iacocca became a household face doing Chrysler commercials in the '80s, has a top automotive CEO taken a more direct interest in linking himself with his company. Something like a third of the division's ad budget is being bet on his ability to persuade America that there is still a Ford in its future.
As the ads say, "If you haven't looked at Ford lately, look again."