Non-traditional tactics back Ford revamp of Taurus

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Ford Motor Co. is making good on a promise with the relaunch of the redesigned Taurus. The integrated program features more non-traditional marketing.

When Ford Division redesigned the sedan for the 1996 model year, Taurus received a $110 million advertising blitz. This time, the plan includes displays at nearly 150 shopping malls; a motorsports sweepstakes tied to Nascar sponsorships; a custom magazine; and a second sweepstakes tied to college football.

Rick Crossland, Taurus brand manager at Ford Division, wouldn't reveal the budget. Ford spent $81.7 million in measured media for Taurus in 1998 and $36.8 million in the first half of 1999, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

CHANNEL SURFERS CHALLENGED

Ford is combining traditional media and promotions for a Taurus giveaway. It will challenge channel surfers watching college football bowl games on ABC to stay tuned.

During the four ABC games from Jan. 1 through Jan. 4, the automaker will give away a sedan for every touchdown scored. The catch: Consumers who register for the sweepstakes must watch at least one of two TV commercials running in the same quarter of a game. To win the cars, participants will need to know which game signal a digital football ref gives during the spot.

At the end of each game, Ford will phone entrants randomly to ask for the signal given.

Mr. Crossland expects about 500,000 participants.

"Football skews very well, about 50-50 with men and women, so it's a great way to build awareness for Taurus," he said.

Entry registration is either via a toll-free number or on the Internet at bcsdrive.espn.com. Information about the promotion also will be available at 140 malls owned by developer Simon Property Group. Ford inked a deal with Simon for Taurus displays from late November through Jan. 31.

The traditional media blitz kicks off on New Year's Day, anchored by a 60-second spot from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, with brand spokesman John Corbett. Footage from the :60 will be used for two follow-up :30s.

Taurus will be advertised under the theme "What if," touting the car's technical advancements that improve safety.

National print will appear in January, along with outdoor in the top 20 markets, which generate 52% of Taurus sales. Banners will be used on Web portals including Yahoo! and Excite.

A custom-published Road & Track from Hachette Filipacchi Magazines will feature the Taurus; a total 3.2 million copies will be distributed.

About 550,000 subscribers to Road & Track and Car & Driver will get the 44-page custom book along with their January issues.

FORD `IN A PICKLE'

The 2000-model styling returns the sedan to its more conservative roots, said Art Spinella, VP at consultancy CNW Marketing/Research. But, he added, "Ford is in a pickle" as buyers of the car since its last major redesign liked the somewhat radical elliptical interior and exterior styling.

"The people who did get the new version ['96 redesign] liked the cutting-edge kind of styling, but now Ford is trying to convert people back to something more conservative," he said.

The loyalty rate has deteriorated, too, he said. The percentage of Taurus owners who came in for another slid to the 30% range from more than 50%. Mr. Spinella said that's partly due to Ford's halt of advertising for two-year lease deals.

LOOKING FOR LOYALTY

Mr. Crossland said the previous redesign was "maybe too radical." He didn't agree with CNW's loyalty rates but declined to reveal Ford's numbers.

"We are hoping to recapture some of our core owners of the early '90s. We are trying to increase the loyalty of the vehicle," he said.

Taurus lost its crown as the nation's best-selling car at the end of 1997 -- to Toyota Motor Corp.'s Camry. Ford sold 338,824 of the sedans through November vs. 342,450 a year ago, according to Automotive News. Toyota sold 418,130 Camrys in the first 11 months of 1999 vs. 374,525 a year ago.

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