The spots were rapidly produced starting late last week as Ford execs realized their normal marketing plans would no longer cut it as the coronavirus pandemic overtakes nearly every facet of American life.
“Thursday morning of last week, it became clear we were at a tipping point where we expect typical messaging in the marketplace isn’t going to work the same way,” says Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing for Ford Motor Co. “It’s important to be reassuring right now and not trying to say to people 'Rush into your car dealership for a sales event.’ ”
The ads play into Ford’s more than 100-year history. They reference how the company built tanks and planes during wartime, and more recently offered payment relief to consumers affected by natural disasters like hurricanes, fires and tornados.
During the coronavirus outbreak, customers of the automaker’s vehicle financing arm, Ford Credit, “may be able to change a payment due date or delay a payment,” Ford says in a press release issued today, which refers buyers to a special hotline or to visit a website. Ford Credit is also offering a program giving new vehicle buyers the option to delay their first payment for 90 days. It follows a program Hyundai launched over the weekend in which it promises to make up to six months of payments for drivers who lose their jobs and have purchased or leased their vehicle between March 14 to April 30, 2020.
Ford is also ramping up its philanthropic efforts including giving money to support food programs for children no longer in school. It also is launching an emergency aid program with the United Negro College Fund aimed at helping financially strapped students to get home following the sudden closures of colleges and universities.
The new ads will temporarily replace ongoing campaigns touting vehicles such as the Ford Escape and Ford Explorer. In reality, with the sports world shut down, the automaker has fewer places to put its spots. “We would have been a big March Madness advertiser,” VanDyke notes. But Ford still had buys slated for scripted TV shows and news programming. Starting today, those slots will be used to run the new ads.
The spots were hustled together using historical footage as well as a heavy text- and sound-based format, rather than shooting new footage. “We decided that speed was what mattered most,” VanDyke says.
Ford, like most companies, has instituted a work-from-home policy. VanDyke—who joked during the Ad Age interview to ignore “dogs barking or kids playing a trumpet in the background”—says the marketing team has been communicating via WebEx, shared Google documents and email.
As for how long the coronavirus response ads will run, he says: “We’ll obviously look at it day-to-day and week-to-week. We’ve got some [vehicle] launches going on right now. Depending on how long this remains front-and-center in the news we’ll look at deferring out some of that activity into the next month.” This year’s priorities include marketing the return of the Ford Bronco, as well as plugging the latest F-150 pickup truck and other retail and brand ads, VanDyke says.
Of course, with social distancing and work-from-home policies now the norm, shooting new ads becomes more difficult. “We literally wrapped a shoot on Saturday and just Friday and Saturday we were starting to get impacted where we reduced the size of the crew on the set to mission critical and we were able to get through that,” VanDyke says. “We certainly aren’t going to stop things but we are going to be safe and smart about how we do it. Right now it’s so early we don’t have a complete understanding about what the production capabilities of different companies are right now,” he says.
But he adds: “Our marketing department has never been busier. We’ll work to figure out the best way for us to carry on and continue developing that work so when the time is right we are ready.”