"I realized they had gone past skepticism to apathy," said Mr. Farley, who is now group VP-marketing and communications at Ford Motor Co. "We have to break that pattern of apathy." In fact, he told reporters last week that not enough Americans "have a favorable opinion of our company."
Ford is out to change that perception with its new "Drive One" marketing blitz that began with a 60-second commercial during "American Idol" last week. The goal is to make believers -- and buyers -- out of Americans who aren't putting Ford on their shopping lists.
45% already like Ford, but ...
Mr. Farley said that according to a CNBC web survey of 609 respondents conducted after that first "Drive One" commercial ran, 45% said they already liked Ford. Another 20% said the commercial didn't change their minds about Ford, but another 20% said it did and 15% said it might.
Mr. Farley said it's "pretty cool" that 45% of those polled said they liked Ford already. But there's clearly still a disconnect, he said, because the Ford brand has only a 13% market share. "What's going on out there?" he asked. He said the 45% who like Ford will be the "first and foremost" targets of this campaign.
The work, from WPP Group's JWT Team Detroit, Dearborn, Mich., is the result of a three-month dive into the "bowels of Ford Motor Co." to learn and understand the cool things employees were doing, said John Felice, general marketing manager of Ford Division. The agency interviewed 115 engineers, designers and technical experts, some in facilities and doing jobs unknown to many employees. The insiders are featured in the national TV and print ads, talking about one of Ford's four brand pillars under the "Drive One" theme: safety, quality, environmentalism and dedication to smart systems, such as its in-vehicle Sync, developed with Microsoft and exclusive to Ford Motor Co. through the end of this year. Among other things, Ford is touting that its quality now equals that of Toyota.
The campaign includes 30 90-second webisodes at a "Drive One" microsite from WPP sibling Wunderman Detroit, also Dearborn. The first media flight runs through May; the focus will later shift to more product-focused executions that will include the launch of the Ford Flex crossover.
Pass it on
All 61 of Ford's regional dealer ad groups will air 20 TV commercials with the same overall "Drive One" theme. But Ford is dropping last year's "Swap My Ride" regional dealer work that showed the positive reactions of non-Ford owners after driving a Ford for a week. The new work, themed "Town to Town, Friend to Friend," shows non-Ford owners passing a Ford off to a friend or family member after a week.
Ford brought the star of one those spots to Vegas. Honda Civic owner Amy Hardigree of Rohnert Park, Calif., told reporters she was "shocked" the Ford Edge had such a smooth ride and "is the most comfortable car" she ever sat in. She passed the Edge to her friend Julie, who also loved the vehicle, and Ms. Hardigree said she's now in the market for an Edge.
Ford wouldn't reveal ad spending behind the effort, but Mr. Felice said the brand, its regional dealer ad groups and individual Ford dealers collectively spend about $1.5 billion annually in measured media. Ford Division will account for about half the new campaign's media spending; the regional dealer groups the other half.
The automaker reported its new-vehicle sales in the U.S. slid by 7% in the first quarter to 481,863 units vs. the same period a year ago. But the marque is making inroads in the small-car segment with its redone Focus, which had it best sales month in March since August 2005, with retail sales up 35%. Ford said retail sales of its Edge crossover jumped 52% in the first quarter.
Letting people tell the story
The essence of the advertising, as Mr. Farley sees it, is "one human being talking to another human being about Ford. That is the only chance we have to break this cycle of apathy."
Mr. Felice told Advertising Age that the marketer will measure the campaign's performance on seven criteria, including building the Ford brand's image, improving customer consideration and increasing dealership traffic. Ford brand's newer models, including the Fusion sedan, Edge crossover and redone Focus, helped push up favorable opinion of the automaker by 20% since 2006, he said.
He said consumers see Ford as a maker of trucks and Mustangs, as an old-economy outfit for mid-America. But the automaker has a lot of untold positive stories, he said, which the campaign will popularize. "We're really trying to remake the image of the company."
Mr. Farley, who had been group VP-general manager of Toyota's Lexus division, cautioned not to judge the success of Ford's campaign this month or next. "The judgment on this will be five years from now."