At that time, Ford's agency was J. Walter Thompson and Henry
Ford still was running the automaker. WPP and its predecessor
produced such memorable taglines as "There's a Ford in your
future," "Ford has a better idea," "Built Ford tough" and, of
course, "Have you driven a Ford ... lately?"
In the automaker's early days, Henry Ford employed J. Walter
Thompson to sell Model T's, but they parted ways after just two
years. Three decades later, as Ford began planning for his company
to resume full production after World War II, he was reassured that
a big ad agency wouldn't cost more than a small one. He declared,
we might as well have a big one."
So Ford terminated his agency, Maxon Inc., and the company
signed its inaugural formal agreement with JWT in December 1943.
The agency actually took over some of the automaker's advertising
as early as 1942, said Ted Ryan, Ford Motor's archives and heritage
In a letter to JWT headquarters in New York, Ford Motor said:
"The terms stated in your letter ... are satisfactory and are
hereby accepted ... with the understanding that Ford ... may at any
time terminate the arrangement by written or verbal notice to your
company. We trust that the arrangement ... will prove to be
The agreement was signed by Ford purchasing manager J. Walter
Thompson, who just happened to have the same name as the
agency—a crazy coincidence.
In the subsequent decades, JWT helped Ford launch many
nameplates, including the Thunderbird, Mustang, Pinto, Taurus,
Explorer, Ranger and Escort.
The first JWT campaign for Ford began in the winter of 1943-44.
One ad showed a giant crystal ball with the caption, "There's a
Ford in your future." Ad Age reported that the slogan was intended
"to reflect, at least, partial peace and the lifting of restraints
and restrictions in civilian life" and also was "attuned" to "a
quickened eagerness to own new cars." A similar ad debuted in 1945,
showing a long, winding road in the familiar crystal ball
captioned, "You'll go high, wide and handsome ... There's a Ford in
your future." Ryan said the campaign teased the new cars that would
be produced as the automaker switched from wartime production as
the "arsenal of democracy" back to passenger cars.
Ford's first TV ads aired in September 1946, according to the
1976 book "The Public Image of Henry Ford: An American Folk Hero
and His Company." In the early 1960s, it ran commercials for the
Ford Falcon featuring the "Peanuts" gang, representing the debut TV
appearance of Charlie Brown and his friends, before their
now-ubiquitous animated holiday specials later that decade.
With the help of JWT, Ford unveiled the Mustang at the New York
World's Fair on April 17, 1964, with great fanfare and national
advertising via newspaper, magazine and TV, Ryan said. The sports
car was a sensation and popped up in multiple stories in Newsweek
and Time and even the movie
Goldfinger, in which James Bond is chased by a white Mustang
convertible. The new Mustang received the Tiffany Award for
Excellence in American Design in 1965, the first automobile ever to
be honored by Tiffany & Co., and JWT touted this achievement in
an ad featuring the gold certification and a white Mustang.
"Ford has a better idea" was another popular tagline that the
automaker used in a variety of ads. A 1968 print ad featured a
lightbulb in place of the "O" in Ford's name. The tag line also was
used in a TV commercial for the 1968 Mustang.
"Have you driven a Ford ... lately?" was perhaps the most iconic
slogan created by JWT. The campaign's musical tag line ran until
1994, nearly 11 years after its launch. In one ad for the 1993
Taurus SHO, a center shot of the vehicle is captioned, "Think of it
as caviar for the power hungry. Have you driven a Ford lately?"
Ford's relationship with the agency wasn't always smooth, but
the companies managed to iron out issues that arose. "One time
Henry Ford II wanted management to fire us, but they wouldn't,"
Peter Schweitzer, JWT's then-CEO, told Automotive News in 2003. He
said Ford's lieutenants told him, "Look, they're the best agency.
Give us time and we'll fix it."
WPP entered the picture in 1987, when it bought JWT for $566
million. In 2006, it formed Team Detroit (now Global Team Blue) as
a joint venture of five Ford agencies: JWT, Ogilvy & Mather,
Y&R, Wunderman and Mindshare.
In 2011, Team Detroit's then-CEO, George Rogers, who created the
said its concept was "partly about efficiency," with a
structure that allowed the agency to be "100 percent agnostic"
about specific marketing communications services and media. The
joint venture paid off, and the automaker was chosen by Ad Age as
Marketer of the Year in 2010, when Ford posted its largest profit
in more than a decade. In addition, Team Detroit made the 2011 Ad
Age A-List of successful agencies.
"WPP is and has been a valued partner for decades, leading in
our efforts to connect with our customers," Joy Falotico, Ford
group vice president and chief marketing officer, told Automotive
News this week in an email. "WPP has developed strong campaigns
over the years because they understand Ford and our customers very
well. One great example of this is 'Built Ford Tough,' which still
characterizes the F-Series, America's best-selling trucks for 41
Even as Ford brings BBDO aboard, it is not kicking WPP to the
curb entirely. The automaker stated it will still use WPP for its
U.S. Tier 2 dealer advertising, media planning, media buying,
shopper and performance marketing, website development, customer
relationship marketing and multicultural marketing. Ford also hired
independent agency Wieden & Kennedy for creative and innovation
Danielle Szatkowski is a reporter for Automotive News. Ad
Age contributed to this report.