Chairman Ford plays to the TV audience in a flat year

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Francisco Codina makes no bones about it: His biggest challenge in 2002 is to polish Ford Motor Co.'s blue oval, the logo for the automaker's biggest division.

Mr. Codina, ex-president of Ford Argentina, joined Ford Division as general marketing manager a year ago. The tarnish on blue oval's image started before his arrival. The popular Ford Explorer sport-utility vehicle was tied to the August 2000 Bridgestone/ Firestone tire recall. Plus, Ford had its own string of vehicle recalls.

While Mr. Codina admits "it takes time" to rebuild a brand, he believes "the stars are aligned" at Ford Division to improve its standing. "We've already seen a bit of an uptick in purchase consideration" for Ford since the fourth quarter of 2001, he says.

In the first two months of 2002, Ford says, it sold 416,487 vehicles, 10.9% fewer than the same period a year ago. Ford car sales for the period slipped by 18.8% to 116,278, while its truck sales were off by 7.3% to 300,209.

Mr. Codina says Ford will follow the trend of the overall industry this year with fewer sales than in 2001. "Otherwise, the math doesn't work" or match industry experts' predictions for a drop in total industry sales.

Still, Mr. Codina believes Ford Division has a good mix of vehicles, and these products will lead the brand's revival. The redone Expedition full-size SUV will be a major launch arriving next month. High-volume models like the Focus small car and F-Series pickup also will continue to get ad support.

The Expedition launch ads will broaden the "No boundaries" theme that began Feb. 25 in four 60-second divisional brand commercials starring Ford Motor Chairman Bill Ford. WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, handles. The original "No boundaries" ad theme, developed and launched in fall 1999, applied only as an umbrella tag for Ford's SUV lineup.

Mr. Codina plans on putting more ad dollars into TV because the new campaign with Chairman Ford "lends itself to TV" more than print, though there are several accompanying magazine executions. Some of the TV dollars are coming from the print budget, which will be slightly less than last year. Ford Division's 2002 ad budget will be flat vs. '01, he says.

The brand doesn't have a lot of all-new products arriving this year. But Ford has more limited-production versions of existing vehicles it calls "buzz products." They include the King Ranch F-150 pickup with upgraded interior, Focus Mach Audio ZX5 coming in June and 2003 Mustang Mach I due in September.

Mr. Codina plans some non-traditional marketing approaches in 2002.

This year, he wants to include Ford cars in the division's "No Boundaries Experience" events that combine SUV driving lessons with sports like rock-wall climbing and simulated white-water kayaking. The so-called NBX had only featured Ford's SUVs since it started in 2000 on a five-city tour. He also wants to add more stops in 2002 from last year's 12. After the 2000 NBX, research revealed that 80% of attendees said they were more likely to buy a Ford SUV and 92% said they would recommend to friends or family they buy a Ford SUV.

The marketing executive hopes to improve online dialogue and relationships with Ford owners after was redone in February. A new area on the Web site allows owners to register with Ford to get service reminders, check vehicle payment data or receive Ford news earlier than the general public.

Some 6,000 owners had registered by mid-March, even though Ford didn't begin promoting the new online area till late in the month. "Our research shows the customer wants to hear from us on their terms," Mr. Codina says. "Our intent is to capture the customer and utilize the Web site to give them the information they want."

Ford's own research revealed its brand needed to enhance its blue oval logo, says Mr. Codina. "All we need is to give people permission to fall in love with Ford again."

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