Ford, which has been using Bryan Cranston as its celebrity spokesman, is adding another star to its marketing mix. The automaker today announced that actor Idris Elba will serve as “creative partner” to help launch an all-electric Mustang-inspired SUV, which will be revealed Nov. 17 in conjunction with the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Ford is leveraging the fact that Elba in the 1980s worked at a Ford factory in the U.K. before his acting career took off. “My dad also worked at Ford. It’s practically in my blood. So working on this project and getting behind the wheel of a car that takes us all towards the future feels like things are coming full circle, but with more exhilaration and tech,” he said in a statement supplied by Ford.
In addition to participating in vehicle launch activities around the L.A. Auto Show, Elba will appear in a global integrated marketing campaign from BBDO, Andy Georgescu, a Ford product marketing manager, said in an interview. BBDO was named Ford’s lead global creative agency last year.
Georgescu declined to reveal details on the campaign or the launch event, which a spokeswoman confirmed will be held at an off-site venue near the L.A. show. But based on the way Ford is talking about the partnership, ads seemed destined to pull from Elba’s history with Ford. Georgescu called him an “authentic partner” when “you match his celebrity with his personal biography.” He noted Elba’s interest in street racing as well as “passion for reducing emissions around the world”—two traits that make him a match for promoting a vehicle that seeks to blend performance with environmentalism.
Georgescu declined to reveal details about the SUV, which Ford has simply described at “Mustang-inspired.”
Ford, like all automakers, is investing heavily in electric vehicles amid stricter global emissions standards. By associating the SUV with Mustang, Ford is linking it with one of the most powerful brands in its fleet. The approach is part of Ford’s philosophy to portray that its EV models are as powerful as its gas-powered vehicles.
"When we first started talking about electrification, there was this thought that there had to be a trade-off: It was either going to be green and boring and no fun, or really exciting but burn a lot of fossil fuels," Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford said at a business lunch hosted by Crain’s Detroit Business earlier this year. "Electrification has come to the point that you can do both."
Georgescu said Ford targeted Elba because “he’s a singular talent” with “great substance” who can “really effectively tell the story in whatever role he plays.”
The actor is known for playing Nelson Mandela in “Long Walk to Freedom” as well as starring in the critically acclaimed TV series “The Wire.” This year he starred in "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw,” and he is set to appear in the forthcoming “Cats” movie based on the Broadway musical.
In media interviews, Elba has frequently talked about his experiences working the night shift at a Ford plant in Dagenham, U.K. In a speech in 2016 in which he criticized the entertainment industry for lack of diversity, he said “Ford Dagenham turned out to have more opportunity and more diversity than the TV industry I was trying to break into,” according to an account in a London-areas news publication.
In 2013, the Irish Examiner reported how logging time in the blue-collar job motivated Elba to pursue a more glamorous acting career. “I was doing a night shift at the Ford factory in Dagenham with my dad and I knew that if I stayed there, I'd be a lifer. I took the moment to say, 'Stop. Go for it.'” the newspaper reported him saying.