Mustang fans help Ford give new model free ride

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To an eruption of cheers last week, Edsel Ford II introduced Detroiter Sir Mack Rice, 70, who sang "Mustang Sally" to hundreds assembled to honor 60 Mustang enthusiasts who are driving cross-country and stopped at Ford's Detroit headquarters to celebrate the pony car's 40th anniversary.

The event "shows the passion people have for our car," Ford CEO William Clay Ford Jr. told Advertising Age. "I know of no other car with this kind of following."

But the real star of "The Great American Pony Drive II," which Ford is hosting in about half its 40 stops, is the 2005 next-generation Mustang, which as part of the event is trotted around the country in a glass case. With high-profile events catering to existing Mustang enthusiasts, Ford is hoping to sell a new model not just to current owners but create a buzz that will convert nonowners into prospects.

"The Pony Drive people become our enthusiastic-and unpaid-spokespersons," said a Ford spokeswoman. "The Beatles had their fans. Britney has hers and we have our fan club too."

perception, not sales

For automakers, such events aim at winning awareness, improving perceptions and increasing buyer consideration. "A lot of times the object of the sponsorships isn't direct sales," said Jim Andrews, editorial director of the IEG Sponsorship Report.

At Chrysler Group, Julie Roehm, director-marketing communications, calls the automaker's Camp Jeep owner event a means to keep owners' buyer consideration positive.

"We try to keep the Jeep experience front and center for them with the end result that they repurchase our vehicles," she said.

Determining event spending toward owners and others by the category is difficult, although the five major automakers spent between $440 million and $470 million on sponsorships last year, according to the IEG Sponsorship Report.

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