Ford Maps Out the Safe Route Into Urban Territory

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For a company that's supposedly all about bold moves, Ford's attempt to drum up "street cred" by signing a deal with DJ Funkmaster Flex seems a bit timid.

As reported in Advertising Age, Ford will create Funkmaster Flex editions of the Mustang and the Expedition. It's also decided to ditch the Fairlane name for a coming vehicle, going with the Flex instead.

On paper, it's a smart move. Going after the black market (what marketers mean when they say "urban") puts Ford in front of an overlooked demographic and taps into a cultural vein that reaches far beyond America's cities in terms of influence.

Ford, obviously, is hoping to repeat the success that GM's Cadillac has seen with the Escalade SUV. The Escalade is rapped about in songs and driven in any number of hip-hop videos. But it should be pointed out that Cadillac didn't have to sign deals to get there. The vehicle was seen as cool by hip-hop stars because of its bigger-than-life size and glitz. They then started to write about it. Its image preceded its popularity.

Ford, on the other hand, is trying to buy its way in. And that move comes with problems.

First, when any company signs on a celebrity, it signs on that celebrity's baggage. And hip-hop performers typically carry oversize luggage. One of the benefits of Cadillac's organic street cred was that the brand never had to accept responsibility for any of the performers singing its praises. So Ford is playing it safe. Funkmaster Flex, though no blushing virgin, seems acceptable to the mainstream -- at the very least, he won't raise the hackles of folks like Bill O'Reilly.

Second -- and perhaps more important -- this kind of deal seems the antithesis of street cred. After all, Anheuser-Busch tried to buy its way in by signing up Jay-Z to shill for Bud Select. The current king of hip-hop couldn't move bottles of the beleaguered brand, probably because he'd never been seen with the beer prior to his payday.

Funkmaster Flex does have one thing going for him: He might not be sitting at the top of the charts, but he is a car guy. He can claim a number of car-related TV shows, an annual touring car show that features celebrities, a car-customizing team and the Lugz FMF-1 Funkmaster Flex driving shoe.

That obvious passion for cars could very well drum up interest from urban gear-heads and tuners. But we doubt we'll be seeing the Flex editions driving their way up the hip-hop charts anytime soon.
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