Letter from the editor in chief

By Published on .

'Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown" is what Shakespeare's Henry IV said about his unpopular reign.

The same could apply to Ford Motor Co., the most intensely personal, tumultuous and intriguing major corporation over the last 100 years of American business history. And, I might add, one of the most exciting. It certainly was the case for my brother, Keith, and me in the spring of 1964 when Ford was introducing the Mustang. The big secret was what the selling price would be, and we on Advertising Age learned that the price would be prominently featured in the opening ad.

Suffice it to say that Keith and I obtained a copy of the Mustang ad, carrying its price of $2,368. Of course, we plastered it all over our front page. (Hint: R.R. Donnelley in Chicago printed big consumer magazines at the time. Could the Brothers Crain have been involved in cloak-and-dagger tactics at the high-security printing plant?)

When Henry Ford II fired Lee Iacocca, Keith, as publisher of Automotive News, was the first to call Mr. Iacocca. His opening line: "Say it isn't so, Lee." I could talk about my '54 Mercury (not the '50 Mercury James Dean drove, but pretty cool nonetheless) and my trusty Falcon, but you get the idea. I've watched a few Fords go by.

That phrase-"Watch the Fords go by"-was a slogan that materialized in1907 when the company's traffic manager, W.S. Hogue, attended an auto race dominated by Fords, and at one point he voiced that memorable line. Ford's ad manager snatched it up, and "Watch the Fords go by" became an important part of Ford advertising. To me, 96 years later, the slogan works better than any of the catch lines created later. "Have you driven a Ford lately?" and even "At Ford quality is job one" are a mite too defensive in tone for my taste.

One highlight of this section is the portfolios of Ford ads through the years. Bob Goldsborough, Ad Age's director of special projects, told me many of the ads shown in our pages hadn't received much exposure over the years. Bob agreed with Bob Garfield's assessment that Ford doesn't have a reputation for breakthrough creative, but he noted that the Ford ads in the '20s and '30s were "absolutely beautiful, like works of art. They were elegant and understated, dignified and formal. They just presented the automobiles, mostly in fancy places like country clubs and polo fields, even for cars which were not top of the line." By the '40s, he said, the less-elegant Ford ads concentrated on stronger selling messages.

Bob gathered the ads at Duke University's Hartman Center and the Detroit Public Library's National Automotive History Collection. Duke's archives house J. Walter Thompson Co. creative output beginning in 1943, the year Ford appointed JWT, onward. For earlier Ford ads, Bob visited what he called the "little gem" in Detroit, a "very attractive" library-within-a-library where the auto collection is displayed.

This Ford section has been a moving target. Right up until deadline, we've made changes in our stories as new developments occurred. Fred Danzig filed an insert for his story about JWT CEO Peter Schweitzer on the new head of the Ford account, Sean Neall, a move that reunited Mr. Neall with Steve Lyons, president of the Ford division. Mr. Schweitzer, JWT's first President-CEO to be located in Detroit, put it this way about his favorite client: "Ford is fair-tough, but fair. You get beat up if you drop the ball, but you get to try again. It's their money, after all, that drives this particular partnership, and it's serious business."

Ford, as this section goes to press, continues to make its business a full-contact sport. The president of Ford, Nicholas Sheele, was forced to deny he was feuding with the company's purchasing chief, David Thursfield. Mr. Thursfield had initiated an internal review of Mr. Sheele's decision to give more ad business to the WPP Group without competitive bidding. Said Mr. Scheele, in an e-mail to employees: "As you will appreciate, the past few days have been difficult for me personally."

But then again, nothing's been an easy trip at Ford, where strong personalities continue to dominate the landscape and make the company so compelling.

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