Ford Chronicles Turnaround Efforts in Online Film Series

Automaker Explains Its 'Change or Die' Mentality

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- In an unusual move, Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division is chronicling its turnaround efforts in the U.S. with an online documentary series that addresses with brutal honesty the automaker's problems.
The primary target audience for the online series may be Ford employees.
The primary target audience for the online series may be Ford employees.

'Rip out the BS'
The short-film series, titled "Bold Moves. The Future of Ford," will run weekly through year's end -- some 50 episodes in all -- and is intended to tell the automaker's side of the story about how it needs to "change or die." In one of the episodes unveiled today near Ford Motor headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., a female journalist says, "This is a company that could really go down." Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, says the automaker needs to "rip out the BS and political posturing and have a constructive conflict," and that "we can't rest one iota in this business."

Other company executives, including Chairman William Ford, white and blue-collar employees, consumers, analysts and auto journalists, offer their opinions in the 3- to 5-minute films, which are produced by WPP Group's JWT, Detroit and New York, and directed by Radical Media, New York.

"We'll attract both sides of the fence. We'll have haters and we'll have lovers," said May Lou Quesnell, director of brand DNA at Ford. "We recognize our challenges."

Visitors to www.fordboldmoves.com can register for updates and offer their written opinions on the site, although explicit comments will be filtered out, Ms. Quesnell said. She declined to reveal the cost of the campaign, but said it was not more expensive than Ford's upcoming TV reality show about designing a dream car.

No ads in traditional media
The films will be promoted online only -- no traditional media buys -- through paid search advertising on Google; other websites, including CNN; and a link on fordvehicles.com.

The effort is part of the brand's attempt to "become more emotional in the way we communicate with our customers and develop an emotional bond," Ms. Quesnell said.

Charlie Hughes, founder of consultant BrandRules and a veteran auto executive, predicted the primary audience of the push is Ford employees. He cited former Ford Chairman Alex Trotman's statement in the 1990s that his biggest problem was getting his own people to believe in changes in the company. Mr. Hughes expects Ford dealers to be the secondary audience. "Still, all these things can be effective to move attitudes in a positive direction, but they have to have some substance in the real world to back it up."

Improved sales in June
Separately, Ford's Francisco "Cisco" Codina, group VP-marketing sales and service in North America, said both Ford Motor and the U.S. industry will see improved sales in June over May. "Our intent is to stabilize market-share erosion and we've done that in the first six months of the year. Our rate of decline is down."

The automaker reported U.S. sales in May slid by 1.9% for all its brands to 278,546 units. The company also reported Ford sales last month slipped by nearly 3% to 234,655 and are off 3.4% in the first five months to 1.06 million.

Mr. Codina hinted Ford Motor won't follow Chrysler Group into employee discounting. "I believe in a sustainable strategy rather than one with peaks and valleys," he said. "We will chart our own course and we plan to stick with our plan."

Sales promotions for 2006 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models are under way to make room for 2007 models, he said. Ford's "Drive on Us" program -- which is being supported by ads featuring "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks -- includes zero-percent financing on nearly all 2006 models, plus customers pay nothing for gas, E-85 or diesel through the end of the year.
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