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Dealer Ad Campaign Touts Ford as 'Best-Selling Brand'

Claim Based on Automaker Passing 2 Million-Vehicle Mark

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Ford Motor Co. is not America's biggest company. That's ExxonMobil, according to CNNMoney's annual "Fortune 500" rankings. Ford's not America's top seller of cars and trucks. That's General Motors, according to Automotive News.

But Ford is the best-selling auto brand, outpacing GM's Chevrolet and Toyota Motor Corp.'s Toyota division in 2012. That's led some dealers in Florida and the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut area to run ads trumpeting Ford as America's best-selling brand, not just best-selling automotive brand.

Is Ford Motor Co. concerned these ad claims confuse consumers? No, said Erich Merkle, an analyst at the company's corporate headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.

Not a single consumer has complained about the ads, which were produced by the independent dealers, said Mr. Merkle. Besides, the factory is comfortable that Americans understand the Ford dealers are talking about Ford being No. 1 among auto brands, not all brands.

"It's somewhat implicit," Mr. Merkle said.

Here's another reason why Ford Motor has no problems with the chest-thumping by dealers. The ads paraphrase a corporate press release issued Dec. 30, 2012, where Ford Motor proudly declared itself the only brand to sell more than 2 million vehicles "in America this year."

It was the second consecutive year Ford exceeded 2 million sales, the release added. Ford's the only brand to do so since the start of the economic recession.

The dealer claims are "consistent with what we put in our press release," Mr. Merkle said. "We were the only brand to sell 2 million vehicles in 2012. And 2011. We've been the only brand to surpass 2 million since 2007, when the industry took a downturn."

He added: "I think it's pretty clear we're talking about Ford -- and we're talking about automobile sales."

Ford's claims are backed up by data from Advertising Age's sibling publication Automotive News. The Ford division racked up sales of 2,160,859 vehicles in 2012 vs. 1,851,646 for Chevrolet and 1,764,833 for the Toyota division. Rounding out the top five best-selling auto brands in 2012 were: Honda Motor Co.'s Honda division with 1,266,569 and Nissan Motor Co.'s Nissan brand with 1,021,779.

The ad claims by Ford dealers don't raise any red flags either with brand expert Robert Passikoff of Brand Keys consulting.

U.S. consumers are far more "brand-literate" than ever before, Mr. Passikoff said. They know there will always be some "puffery" in advertising. They understand Ford is only talking about cars/trucks.

But if Ford operated multiple businesses in multiple product categories outside of automotive, then it would be a much different story, he said.

"Where you have some degree of requirements for specificity is when a brand is a leader -- and they are in lots of categories," Mr. Passikoff said. "If you say, 'Samsung,' people could think telecommunications, people could think TV's. Even then ads are viewed in context. If you see a picture of a 90-inch flat screen [TV], consumers are not going to think [Samsung's] talking about their Galaxy phone."

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