NEW TAURUS GOES FOR THE HEART

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Design, design, design.

That was the mantra inside Dick Howting's creative department at J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, as it began planning nearly a year ago how to introduce the 1996 Ford Taurus, a model radically redesigned for the first time since the original Taurus exploded on the scene in late 1985.

Emotion and lifestyle.

In the end, that's the approach Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division and JWT decided to take for the estimated $110 million Taurus introduction that began with teaser advertising last week leading up to the major media launch starting Oct. 1. Warm images and a musical anthem themed, "Making the dream come true," are the campaign's hallmarks.

"People expect Taurus to be a design leader, but there's more to Taurus than that," said Ross Roberts, the VP-general manager of Ford division who had a major voice in the campaign's direction. "We had to have the human element, including what Taurus has meant to America."

The biggest Ford marketing effort ever includes big-impact media.

Thanks to fast work by Ford and JWT, the automaker nailed down exclusive auto category sponsorship on "The Beatles Anthology," the three-night, 6-hour ABC special airing in November. And Ford will be the only advertiser in a special "NFL Classic" issue of Sports Illustrated, an Elle special issue devoted to "Ellements of Style," and Life's special "Beatles Collectors Issue." And Taurus advertising will run in nine of the first 17 pages of four newsweeklies and six monthly magazines on newsstands in October.

The marketing effort needs to help fulfill huge expectations. Taurus has been the country's top-selling car since 1992, becoming a symbol of U.S. carmakers' resurgence when it surpassed the Honda Accord for the honor.

To stay on top, Taurus also must appeal more to baby boomers, now the dominant force in family sedans. Ford wants to take a decade off the average age of Taurus buyers, now 55.

"This is probably the most important introduction we've ever had," said Jerry Donnelly, Ford division's national advertising manager.

"The major element that's obvious about the new Taurus is that it's carrying forward the tradition of radical design," said Mr. Howting, exec VP-executive creative director at JWT.

To make the new shape acceptable to consumers, agency creatives focused their initial work on explaining how designers conceived the car, and on the Taurus design heritage.

But when JWT presented six campaign ideas built around design, Ford executives led by Mr. Roberts aired concerns the campaign was too narrow. Ford wanted to reassure its 3.3 million Taurus owners that the new model still related to the aspirations of average Americans.

JWT went back and drew up an approach based on music and lush images of the car and owners.

Lauren Crane, a JWT partner and copywriter for the Taurus campaign, penned lyrics for "Making the Dream Come True," the song whose lyrics would eventually give the campaign its theme: "It's just like a dream you can hold in your hand; Taurus stole your heart once it will steal it again."

Ford decided to test consumer reaction to the "Dream" campaign, as well as to one of the design-oriented campaigns, themed "It's what the future looks like."

Mike Priebe, senior partner at JWT and creative director for the Taurus campaign, described the latter campaign as relying heavily on computer animation graphics-the visuals showed ellipses turning into different parts of the exterior and interior. Mr. Howting said "Dream" tested higher, but it was a close call.

The most interesting discovery was that consumers recognized and accepted the dramatic restyling just by seeing the Taurus in the lifestyle campaign. The "Dream" music, meanwhile, added memorability.

The resulting campaign has four commercials with the "Dream" music, including a 60-second spot with lots of images of Taurus and Americans-school kids, young women, young and old couples, executives, sailors, campers.

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