The Ford Edge will be the sole sponsor of fordedge.msn.com, where visitors can find events and activities in 25 cities or share their own suggestions. The automaker hopes the community-style site will attract social-minded adults.
"These are very tech-savvy consumers who like social networking and this allows us to connect with them where they naturally spend time," said Jeri Ward, the vehicle's marketing manager
Visitors to the site can anonymously discuss their favorite activities in five areas: see, eat, trek, play and indulge. MSN has added an "Edge Bot," which shows up as a text-window buddy to make recommendations in real time following consumers' questions about any of the activities. Visitors can, but aren't required, to opt in for more information about the vehicle.
Ford's "Ideas from the Edge" push "really represents where advertising on the web is going -- into much more participatory media that lets consumers be part of the experience," said Gayle Troberman, general manager of MSN's Branded Entertainment unit.
Her team worked with Ford Division's agency JWT, Detroit, on strategy to drive traffic to the area. MSN will promote "Ideas from the Edge" with ads, editorial and promotional links from its home page and other areas, including its auto site, she said.
Microsoft has guaranteed the Ford brand an undisclosed amount of traffic during the blitz, which runs through May, she added.
Neither party would reveal spending, but Ford, like other carmakers and other major advertisers, has increasingly upped online marketing.
Separately, Ford partnered with singer Kelis for the Edge's integrated urban-marketing effort, arriving on radio tomorrow. The hip-hop singer created a new song, "Push It to the Edge," which will break in a TV spot later this month. Kelis also appears in targeted magazine ads and will play a role in various Edge sweepstakes starting in February on radio's "The Steve Harvey Morning Show" and "The Tom Joyner Morning Show."
A web somponent, www.fordurban.com, goes live at the end of the year, and features downloadable music, creative videos and consumer chat rooms. The Edge will be the first highlighted model, but the site will later add Ford brand's entire product portfolio.
Uniworld Group, Dearborn, handled that effort.
The Edge, an SUV with car underpinnings, launch is crucial for the troubled automaker. Francisco Codina, group VP-marketing in North America, called the Edge the "single most important launch for the company this year."
Ford is in the midst of its latest revitalization plan since 2002 as it aims to restore profitability to its North American auto operations. Some 38,000 unionized hourly Ford Motor plant workers accepted voluntary buy-out packages this year, the automaker said last month. The company also wants to trim 10,000 white-collar jobs, with replies on their buy-out offers due in January.
Ford Motor's U.S. sales for all its vehicle brands are off by 7.4% through November to 2.68 million units from a year ago.