Ford ratchets, mixes up marketing

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Ford has a better idea: It's using more guerrilla and nontraditional tactics to market five new models crucial to rebuilding sliding sales.

"This is a huge year for us," said Ford Division President Steve Lyons. "We've never had a year in the history of the company" in which Ford introduced so many car and truck models at the same time. The push comes as Ford vehicle sales fell 3.2% through July as compared with 2003; truck sales rose 0.4% to 1.2 million units as car sales slumped 12% to 440,285 units.

With much at stake, Ford is increasing marketing spending by 50% in the fourth quarter over last. During the last three months of 2003 the company spent $197 million in measured media, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Its efforts run the gamut from wild postings to unusual co-promotions and demonstrations.

Ford heads to the Telluride Film Festival in early September to show off the Freestyle sport wagon and the benefits of its optional all-wheel-drive system. For the Freestyle and Five Hundred, Ford set up hundreds of wild postings on sidewalks and bus shelters in Chicago last week. Ben Poore, car-group marketing manager at the division, said Ford will evaluate the effectiveness of the two-week program before deciding whether to expand to other cities.

Using a "a Disneyland kind of attraction," Mr. Poore said Ford is out to bust the misperception that all-wheel-drive-an option available for the first time on the Five Hundred and the Freestyle-isn't just for better handling in snow. In an eight-city tour, Ford drove its vehicles up a ramp with rollers to demonstrate its all-wheel drive traction.

Next month, it also links with what seems at first unlikely allies-Weber grills and Johnson Bratwurst-for a Freestyle "Ultimate Tailgating Tour" going to at least 18 college campuses. Dell has also signed on as a partner. Amy Marentic, marketing manager for the of Ford's new models, said the company already has pre-sold 15,000 Freestyles and 18,000 Five Hundreds. The automaker expects to sell between 100,000 and 120,000 units annually each. Ford is also exploring a TV program component for its tailgaiting tour.

Along with the new models, Ford aims to keep the limelight on its Focus car line using a "talent search" conducted with Sony Digital Pictures to reach 17 college campuses this fall.

Road tours also support Ford's next-generation Mustang, F-150 Super Duty pickup and Escape hybrid-engine sport utility this year. New national TV commercials for the gas-engine 2005 Escape broke last week.

The Freestyle and Five Hundred, both handled by WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, will have full-scale media campaigns beginning in mid-October. The tagline for Freestyle is anticipated to be "One Vehicle, Endless Possibilities," while the Five Hundred is expected to use "The Power of More."

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