How Ford is taking on Tesla with its Mustang Mach-E
Ford is putting major marketing behind its new Mustang Mach-E electric crossover as the automaker uses one of its most iconic nameplates to muscle its way into the EV sales race that has been dominated by Tesla.
The Mach-E—which is the first crossover and electric vehicle in Mustang’s 55-year history—won’t go on sale until late next year. Using a practice popularized by Tesla, Ford will begin accepting online reservations early. Starting Sunday night, buyers could begin plopping down $500 refundable deposits. But while Tesla relies mostly on news coverage and the outsized personality of Elon Musk to fuel reservation demand, Ford is pulling multiple paid media levers to build hype for the Mach-E, as well as a celebrity endorser: actor Idris Elba, who stars in TV ads by BBDO.
“Our objective is really to have about a billion impressions starting Sunday and going into next week,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing, said in a Friday interview. “Everything we’ve learned is [that] for vehicles that go out there and take reservations, it all happens up-front. This isn’t something with a slow burn. Our success is going to be determined based on how we get out of the gate, capturing people’s imagination and attention and drawing interest.”
On Saturday and Sunday during college and pro football broadcasts, Ford began running 15-second ads featuring Elba that teased the Mach-E without actually showing it. The crossover was formally unveiled Sunday evening at a jet hangar in Southern California in an event featuring Elba that came on the eve of the Los Angeles Auto Show.
Longer TV ads will begin running this week, including during live sports such as Thanksgiving Day football games. A 60-second spot shows the Mach-E tearing through the open road and into the streets of L.A. “Just when you think you know where they are going, they do something unexpected,” Elba says in one of the ads, articulating Ford’s strategy of pushing the vehicle as a “new breed of Mustang.” That is one of the lines on a website that reveals detailed specs of the vehicle, which has a starting price of $43,895 and boasts the ability to go 0-60 mph in a “mid 3 second range.”
Also planned are significant digital media buys with Twitter and Youtube and CNN, which was scheduled to livestream Sunday’s reveal as part of a paid sponsorship. On Monday, the Mach-E will be plugged on a paid in-show integration on ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Additionally, Ford has signed up more than a dozen social media influencers to plug the vehicle to their thousands of followers, ranging from a photographer who goes by the name of “Misshattan” to “ThatDudeinBlue,” a self-described “simple dude who loves life, cars and video games.”
Getting serious about EVs
The campaign amounts to a significant effort for a vehicle that is being launched into an EV market that remains niche, despite much hype. Year-to-date, 175,350 electric vehicles have been sold in the U.S, which is less than 2 percent of all vehicle sales, according to figures provided by Kelley Blue Book sourced from insideevs.com. Tesla dominates EVs, selling 491,602 since 2010, compared with just 9,787 by Ford.
But the Mach-E represents a mindshift for Ford, which had previously sold electric versions of more economy-minded models, like Focus, rather than a brand like Mustang that is known for performance. “This is a huge play by Ford to get serious about EVs,” says Karl Brauer, executive publisher of Kelley Blue Book. It is as much of a corporate branding play as anything, he notes, driven by a desire to be perceived by consumers and analysts as “a forward-thinking, progessive company.”
Ford’s push follows moves by other high-performance brands to take on Tesla, including Audi, which has poured significant marketing behind its new “e-tron” SUV, the first of three battery electric vehicles the luxury brand will introduce over three years. Jaguar, meanwhile, has run TV ads for its electric I-PACE SUV, including one that uses the phrase “roar silently.”
But Brauer says Ford’s Mach-E fills a gap for U.S. buyers who prefer domestic brands and might be lured into buying an EV backed by an iconic brand such as Mustang that has been around a lot longer than Tesla. Still, he says that does not guarantee the Mach-E will be “an overnight success.” There “is not going to be a single model that comes out in one fell swoop and turns the world into an EV-buying world,” he adds. “It’s going to be a long process of knocking down barriers and knocking down resistance from various demographics one-by-one.”
Ford is targeting a group of buyers it refers to internally as “lovers of the new,” which it refers to in internal documents as “LOTN.”
“These are folks who are younger, more educated, more affluent,” VanDyke says. “Most of them...have never shopped Ford before. So we are absolutely interested in expanding the audience and bringing new people into the brand.”
Still, Ford wants to avoid turning off Mustang loyalists, some of whom might find anything resembling an SUV to be blasphemous for the pony car brand built on sports coupes. That is why Ford put an emphasis on reaching out to Mustang clubs, including flying members of the enthusiast groups to Detroit to get a behind the scenes look at the Mach-E. Some members of California-based Mustang clubs were scheduled to participate in Sunday’s reveal event.
Ford is also trying to leverage its network of 2,000 dealers who are “certified, trained EV dealers,” VanDyke says, referring to the vast dealer network as a “competitive advantage” over Tesla. The dealers, he says, “are completely motivated to activate their active their loyal owner base.”