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Ford Motor Co., facing one of its biggest marketing challenges, is revving up an ad effort expected to top the benchmark $100 million spent on the 1986 model year introduction of the Ford Taurus and Mercury Sable.

The estimated $110 million will mostly include money reallocated from ad budgets for other models. The biggest cuts are said to be coming from vehicles that were launched with hefty support this model year, such as the $40 million budget for the redesigned Mustang and $50 million for the new Windstar minivan.

A lot is riding on the money. This time, the automaker needs to score a hit to repay its $6 billion investment in developing the compact Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique, the U.S. versions of a global car already marketed in Europe as the Ford Mondeo.

"There are a lot of new vehicles being introduced by competitors into this very significant segment, and that exacerbates the situation for us," said Hal Augustine, Ford's corporate advertising manager.

The buildup began July 17 with the debut of an estimated $10 million corporate teaser campaign on network, cable and spot TV, and in newsweeklies, women's publications and other magazines. The ads make a virtue of the international aspects of the development process.

Wells Rich Greene BDDP, New York, is handling the corporate effort, which will run until mid-September.

The Ford and Mercury brands will then kick in with pre-launch advertising, leading up to a big media bang on Sept. 29 that's said to include a major presence on network TV and in USA Today.

J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, is handling the estimated $65 million Contour rollout, while Young & Rubicam is in charge of the estimated $35 million Mystique effort.

For Ford, there are some parallels to the Taurus/Sable launch in December 1985.

Then and now, Ford decided to bring out all-new model names to signal a break with the past and establish a more contemporary image. The Contour/Mystique will replace the dowdy, aging Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz.

Fierce competition is another similarity. Ford wants to sell 250,000 units a year of the Contour/Mystique while competing with a slew of rivals, including Nissan Altima, Toyota Corolla and Pontiac Grand Am.


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