Ford ads show sometimes you just can't say too little

By Published on .

Marketer: Ford dealer groups
Agency: J. Walter Thompson USA, Denver
Rating: Three and a half stars

"Dude," which once a upon a time meant a "dandy," and later came to mean "tenderfoot," has spent most of the past 40 years meaning "guy"--as in, "I sell this dude a nickel bag as a favor to this other dude, and he turns out to be a narc. Bummer."

But now, thanks to the combination of the living language and the nearly virtuosic subliteracy of the Nintendo generation, "dude" is mutating yet again. Now, to Americans ages 12 to 25, it means. .. uh ... pretty much everything.

Mainly it seems to be an exclamation--of surprise, relief, excitement, approval, agreement, swelling, burning, itching, what have you. The Ad Review staff first discovered this with our 14-year-old, in an encounter that went approximately like this:

Ad Review: "Allie, Daddy's hair is on fire. Please dial 911."

Allie: "Dude!"

So we were amused and delighted to see that this phenomenon has not gone unnoticed by others, least of all J. Walter Thompson USA, Denver, which has expropriated it to sell subcompact cars to the words-of-one-syllable demographic.

Past corporate Ford efforts to launch the Focus have been spotty because a) neither the car's features nor its styling has been well displayed, and b) the attempts to connect with Gen Xers and Gen Yers have left the audience sawing Zs. Well, forget that. Three charming new spots are awash in brand benefits, while utterly capturing the, ahem, economical eloquence of the target market.

One dramatizes the roomy trunk while employing only one word of dialogue: "Yo." A second plays up high gas mileage using only "Hey." And the best actually conveys ride stability and four-wheel independent suspension by uttering only "Dude."

The spot opens with five friends in a Focus after a quick stop at Red's Java Hut. The driver hands his full-to-the-brim cup of coffee to his friend riding shotgun.

"Dude," he says.

This means "please." Now the friend is holding two. The others also grip hot coffee as the driver peels out. Then they see a sign: RR Xing. Uh oh. Grade crossings mean bumps. Bumps mean spills. Spills mean burns, you know where.


"Dude," the front passenger says.

"Dude," says the second.

"Dude," says the third.

"Dude," says the fourth.

These are "dudes" of warning.

The driver looks at them.

"Dude," he says.

This is a "dude" of assurance. He's got it covered. Sure enough, they cross the tracks, and the bumps are completely absorbed by the car's suspension. Not a drop is spilled. Four groins spared a fate worse than decaf. Then, four voices in unison: "Dude!"

This is the "dude" of unscarred genitals, whereupon the voice-over comes on to announce. "The new Ford Focus. Smooth ride, smooth price." At $12,500 to start and $17,000 loaded, he's not kidding. Also, the car looks very spacious and stylish, two qualities that didn't clearly emerge from the earlier ads. Indeed when our daughter saw the original spots, she denounced the snappy vehicle as a "Mom car."

Dude, that was harsh.

No such misunderstanding will emerge from this campaign. These spots talk about relevant features in a relevant style employing the relevant--i.e., limited--idiom of the consumer.

In short, these ads are simply ... ummmm ... dandy.

Copyright February 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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