Ford taps Bryan Cranston for swagger-filled U.S. campaign

The automaker breaks its first campaign from Wieden & Kennedy and it's full of attitude.

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Ford is trying to get its mojo back and is calling on Bryan Cranston to help get the job done. The automaker, beset this year with a falling stock price and scrutiny about its strategic direction, has tapped the actor to star in a swagger-filled campaign called "Built Ford Proud."

The U.S. campaign, which will begin running on TV this weekend, is the debut effort for Ford by Wieden & Kennedy New York. The independent shop recently joined the automaker's roster along with Omnicom's BBDO as part of a major agency overhaul that led to the demotion of incumbent agency WPP's Global Team Blue.

The ads are injected with more attitude and braggadocio than recent Ford marketing. By weaving historical footage with futuristic scenes, Ford is trying assert its 115-year-old history as a strength in an age when startups like Tesla have captured the nation's attention.

A 60-second spot features Cranston moving through various scenes and roles, including a lecturer at a Ted Talks-like forum, a president and an android. Futuristic transportation scenes are woven with old footage of a Ford factory. "Talk doesn't get things done, building does," Cranston declares, before ending with: "Let the other guys keep dreaming about the future. We'll be the ones building it." The soundtrack, an orchestral cover of the Rolling Stones "Paint It Black," recalls Model T lore and a quote attributed to Henry Ford: "You can have any color as long as it's black."

Cranston has previously done voiceovers for Ford ads, but this is the first time he has appeared on camera for the automaker.

In interviews, Ford executives declined to say the campaign was a direct shot at electric-vehicle marketer Tesla, whose brash-talking CEO Elon Musk has knack for drawing attention, good and bad. But the implications of the new campaign are clear: When it comes to talking about the future of transportation, Ford is sick of taking the backseat to the new guys on the block.

"Our strategy is really to regain our swagger and leadership credentials by being publicly proud of what makes us Ford," Matt VanDyke, Ford's U.S. marketing director, said in a phone interview from Las Vegas, where the automaker this week showed the campaign to more than 3,000 dealer personnel. "We haven't always spoken with this tone of voice." He added: "We think you can trust a company that's been building...for 115 years to carry forward in the future, and that's the message we wanted to get out."

One TV ad zeros in on Ford's logo, playing up the company's family-run heritage, while contrasting it with companies that are the "result of a merger," which could be taken as a shot at Ford competitor Fiat-Chrysler.

Another ad is more jovial, showing a bunch of Ford trucks rumbling down the highway hauling everything from construction equipment to a giant Big Boy statue. "Whatever party you've got going on in the back, we've got the business up front," brags a voiceover.

The campaign is backed by a major media investment that includes buys in National Football League games and primetime and late night TV shows. The company is targeting 2.5 billion media impressions, executives said. Full-page ads will begin running this weekend in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and Washington Post. One of the print ads touts Ford's historic achievements such as revolutionizing the assembly line.

New agency model, big organizational changes

The campaign comes as Ford undergoes big organizational changes including exiting the sedan business in North America to focus on more popular SUVs, crossovers and trucks, while also plowing more money into electric vehicles and hybrids. Ford is also targeting $150 million in "annual efficiencies," as part of what it describes as a "more agile marketing model." But investors have been less than impressed. The company's share price earlier this month fell below $9, reaching its lowest closing price since 2009. The stock fell to $8.51 at Thursday's close amid a broader market decline that saw the Dow tumble by more than 300 points.

Ford announced its new agency model earlier this month, surprising many industry observers with the selection of BBDO as lead global brand agency. Wieden & Kennedy was named as a creative and innovation partner for specific projects, while GTB was kept around to handle duties including shopper marketing and dealer advertising. W&K has been working on the "Built Ford Proud" campaign since earlier this year when it picked up the assignment.

Many questions remain about how W&K and BBDO will work together, but it's now clear that Wieden's campaign will set the creative direction in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. "BBDO can bring their creative prowess and really build on this campaign for us in the U.S.," said Joy Falotico, Ford's group VP and global chief marketing officer.

The Omnicom shop also has the opportunity to carry influence globally, although WPP has retained its status as the lead creative shop in China.

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