FORD TIES SUVS TO 'OUTFITTER' THEME: ADS FOR SPORT-UTILITIES PULL ALL LINES TOGETHER UNDER OUTDOOR POSITIONING

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Mimicking Land Rover, Ford Motor Co. wants its dealers to create an "outfitter" theme in their showrooms for its sport-utility vehicles.

And, for the first time, Ford will group its entire SUV lineup in TV commercials to hammer its outdoor point home.

"Ford wants us to be the one source for people who need a sport-utility vehicle, and they want us to be the experts," said Larry Wind, a Ford dealer in Pittsburgh who attended the division's annual model-year introduction show last week in Philadelphia.

Ford declined to discuss the new ads and strategy. They will be unveiled in Detroit on Aug. 19.

Ford's new campaign will support an expanded line of SUVs. The division this fall introduces the jumbo Excursion. The F-150 SuperCrew, a combination Expedition/F-150 pickup, and the Explorer Sport Trac, a 2001 model-year SUV with a short pickup bed, will arrive early next year.

A compact SUV follows later in 2000.

'MORE CHOICES'

"I'm very pleased with the way Ford is coming to market with these niche vehicles," said Fritz Hitchcock, a Ford dealer in Industry, Calif. "There's more choices for the consumer."

Both national and dealer association commercials will compare specialty-equipment outfitters for climbing, camping or canoeing to Ford, pitched as the sport-utility outfitter.

The commercials from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, use the line "No boundaries" while retaining the "Built Ford tough" tag. Actor John Corbett, who has pitched the brand's "story-telling" spots since February 1998, returns as narrator.

FOCUS ON NEW FOCUS

The all-new Focus car, Ford's crucial attempt to build brand loyalty among consumers as young as 18, is getting a significant chunk of the division's ad and marketing efforts this year.

Ford spent $560.5 million in measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

"It's safe to say we're taking a lead-vehicle approach" with Focus, said Jan Klug, marketing communications manager at Ford, when asked whether other vehicles' ad budgets would suffer because of the car's ad and marketing blitz (see story at left).

'DOING THE OPPOSITE OF GM'

Bob Lierle, an ex-general marketing manager at Land Rover North America, said Ford's move is smart.

"Ford is doing the opposite of General Motors. The Ford oval and Ford Trucks are the brand, while at GM every nameplate is a brand," he said.

He said Ford's outdoorsy showroom plan mimics Land Rover's rugged, themed dealerships and that Ford is the first domestic automaker to attempt this.

Ford Division's idea for the dealership areas-dubbed "Ford Outfitters"-would feature camping equipment and bicycles on racks on the vehicles. The program in voluntary.

Dealers who sell a certain number of Explorers and Expeditions in August will win a free "Outfitter" package for their showrooms from the factory.

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