Ford Chronicles Turnaround Efforts in Online Film Series

Entertainment Turns to Documentary to Explain Its 'Change or Die' Mentality

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DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co. may have become one of the most active automakers in using the internet as a platform for entertainment, but its latest effort may be a little less entertaining for consumers.
In addition to its self-directed documentary, Ford has new online entertainment efforts in the works around Ford, Lincoln and Mercury 2007 launches.

In an unusual move, Ford is chronicling its turnaround efforts in the U.S. with an online documentary series that addresses with brutal honesty the automaker's problems.

50 episodes planned

The short-film series, titled "Bold Moves. The Future of Ford," will run weekly through year's end -- some 50 episodes in all -- and is intended to tell the automaker's side of the story about how it needs to "change or die."

In one of the episodes unveiled yesterday near Ford Motor headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., a female journalist says, "This is a company that could really go down." Mark Fields, Ford president of the Americas, says the automaker needs to "rip out the BS and political posturing and have a constructive conflict," and that "we can't rest one iota in this business."

Other company executives, including Chairman William Ford, white and blue-collar employees, consumers, analysts and auto journalists, offer their opinions in the 3- to 5-minute films, which are produced by WPP Group's JWT, Detroit and New York, and directed by Radical Media, New York.

"We'll attract both sides of the fence. We'll have haters and we'll have lovers," said May Lou Quesnell, director of brand DNA at Ford. "We recognize our challenges."

Visitors to can register for updates and offer their written opinions on the site, although explicit comments will be filtered out, Ms. Quesnell said. She declined to reveal the cost of the campaign, but said it was not more expensive than Ford's upcoming TV reality show about designing a dream car.

Longtime Ford agency JWT, Detroit, part of WPP Group, is helping the marketer develop the series -- tentatively titled "Made in Detroit" -- that would let 15 contestants design their personal American dream cars. Ms. Quesnell expects the show to air on a cable TV network, though none has signed on.

No traditional media buys

The online documentary will be promoted online only -- no traditional media buys -- through paid search advertising on Google; other websites, including CNN; and a link on

The effort is part of the brand's attempt to "become more emotional in the way we communicate with our customers and develop an emotional bond," Ms. Quesnell said.

Charlie Hughes, founder of consultant BrandRules and a veteran auto executive, predicted the primary audience of the push is Ford employees. He cited former Ford Chairman Alex Trotman's statement in the 1990s that his biggest problem was getting his own people to believe in changes in the company. Mr. Hughes expects Ford dealers to be the secondary audience. "Still, all these things can be effective to move attitudes in a positive direction, but they have to have some substance in the real world to back it up."

Ford Motor Co. is going the online documentary route after having produced web series and short films for its Ford, Mercury and Lincoln brands. Those efforts include the recently produced web series "Lovely By Surprise" for Lincoln, and "The Neverything" for Mercury, by Kurt Gunn, who directed the online miniseries "Meet the Lucky Ones" last year for Mercury. Earlier this year, Ford launched a quirky mockumentary film series around the Norwegian band Hurra Torpedo to promote the Fusion sedan.

New online entertainment work

Sales promotions for 2006 Ford, Lincoln and Mercury models are under way to make room for 2007 models, with new online entertainment efforts in the works around those launches.

Ford's already been tapping into its tie-in with Fox's juggernaut "American Idol." Ford's "Drive on Us" program -- which is being supported by ads featuring "American Idol" winner Taylor Hicks -- includes zero-percent financing on nearly all 2006 models, plus customers pay nothing for gas, E-85 or diesel through the end of the year. That coincides with an integrated two-year pact with two-time Grammy winner (and "Idol" alum) Kelly Clarkson, whose song "Go" has been featured in ads. Ford is also sponsoring the singer's 24-stop concert tour and has secured rights to allow other artists to sing "Go." The ads are themed "Bold Moves," replacing the 18-month-old "Built for the Road Ahead."
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