Ford pumps up brand with Focus

U.S. car giant uses online film campaign to generate buzz

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[chongqing] Ford Motor Co. is playing down its American roots in launching the Focus model in China to enhance the car’s appeal to local consumers and reposition its Fiesta and Mondeo brands there by energizing Ford’s overall image. It also tapped into China’s fascination with the Internet by creating online film content in the car’s pre-launch stage, a first for a car company in China.

The Focus is aimed at urban consumers with $1,200-$1,400 in monthly household income who are brand-conscious, tech-savvy and early-adopters, in other words, Chinese who were unlikely to opt for a Ford previously, because Fords were considered too bulky for the country’s congested highways.

“North American cars are bigger than everyone else’s and they have a tradition of being gas-guzzling. We believe vehicles produced in Europe are a better fit [for China],” said Randy Krieger, VP, marketing, sales & service for ChanAn Ford, the U.S. carmaker’s joint venture in Chongqing. As Ford’s most modern car in China, “the Focus will be very good for the Ford brand.”

To break the stereotype of Ford as the maker of big American cars and position them as modern, stylish and fun to drive, advertising casts Focus as “a German-engineered vehicle with unmistakable European style,” said Danielle Godbier, director in charge at JWT, Shanghai, which created the campaign, through strong colorful visuals that are “dynamic, confident, energetic and youthful.”

In the TV spot, a Focus driver impresses local artists by using the sharp turns of his wheels and spilled cans of bright-colored paint to create a vibrant painting. To encourage its image transition, Ford changed its brand slogan, starting with the Focus launch, from “no boundaries” to “make everyday exciting, according to Edmund Li, group account director at JWT, Chongqing.

Ford also created pre-launch buzz with a "Focus on You" online film competition, in which eight up-and-coming Chinese directors produced three-minute videos with themes ranging from youth and love to dreams and families.

One new film appeared each week on Ford’s Chinese web site (www.ford.com.cn/focus) during July and August (the films can still be viewed there), as well as in outdoor media via LCD screens. Viewers voted for the best film online and the winning director, Xiao Jiang, received a free Focus car as her prize.

The story of the films was left up to each director “as long as they met the brief, living an exciting life in China, which they could interpret however they wanted, and showed a Focus somewhere in the film. The movies were all over the board,” said Mr. Krieger.

“It was a good way to generate interest among young, urban professionals, our core potential customers,” he added. Ford’s Chinese Web site attracted 206,103 unique visitors in July and another 152,233 in August. More than 71,000 people pulled up the Focus page on the web site during July, followed by 167,000 hits in August. By the end of the competition, Ford signed up 36,104 Chinese as Focus members.

China is now the world’s No. 3 car market after the U.S. and Japan, and is likely to overtake Japan as early as 2008, according to analysts like Michael Dunne, Shanghai-based president, Automotive Resources Asia.

However, car sales growth slowed dramatically from 75% in 2003 vs. 2002 to just 12% last year compared to 2003. The growth rate stabilized this year after a surprisingly strong summer, but analysts predict steady 10% to 15% growth for the next few years.

That means car companies like Ford, who were relatively late to the market, need to “play catch-up” to turn on China’s most sophisticated consumers, said Mr. Krieger. Ford’s locally produced vehicles debuted in 2003.

“The market is getting very crowded and competitive very quickly, compared to developed markets that evolved over time,” he added, “but in China, you can bring out a new car and your fortunes can change very, very quickly.”
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