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WILLOW SPRINGS, Calif.-It could be called one of the biggest creative ad sessions ever in southern California.

Ford Motor Co. earlier this month flew 233 "creatives" into the Mojave Desert, briefed them on the 1994 Mustang, gave them test drives, fed them lunch and then sent them off to create the radio spots for the second half of the $1 million, 15-day campaign for the all-new Pony car.

The creatives, in this case, were disc jockeys representing 138 stations from San Diego to Santa Barbara to Bakersfield. The event, called Mustang Squadron, featured a military theme as it mustered the hordes of DJs into 30 brand new Mustangs at the Willow Springs International Raceway here, about 55 miles north of Los Angeles.

Word of the Mustang, using a variety of adjectives from "cool" to "bitchin,'*" has flooded the southern California airwaves. Although car companies and their agencies usually maintain strict control over all advertised messages, the extemporaneous ads appear as paid word-of-mouth.

The event didn't draw the biggest radio names, such as the morning duo of Mark & Brian on KLOS-FM or Rick Dees of KIIS-FM (Los Angeles DJs who tend to charge top dollar for personal appearances), but the promotion made up for it with sheer volume.

Peter Tilden, a popular afternoon talk show host on KABC-AM in Los Angeles, for example, said he rarely does personal appearances but decided to make an exception.

"The sales rep approached me gently," he said. "And it sounded like fun."

Besides, Mr. Tilden received assurances he would be back in his studio for his 4 p.m. show.

Dailey & Associates, Los Angeles, handles the southern California Ford regional marketing efforts and coordinated the unusual campaign. Fully half the agency turned out at the event as volunteers to keep the DJs on schedule.

Ford bought 60-second spots during morning and afternoon drive time on all 138 stations represented at the event for the week before and week after the event itself. The agency encouraged the DJs to ad-lib teaser spots talking about the event and, after experiencing the Mustang, to give their impressions to listeners.

Each DJ was given a cassette at the race track and encouraged to use the tape machines in each car to record live reactions and incorporate them into their spots. The agency delivered written "talking points" to the jocks about the cars but made it quite clear that these weren't to be used as scripts.

"We would rather you do what you do best," said a bold-face note at the bottom of the teaser fact sheet.

As an added incentive, the agency informed the jocks at the event that the DJ performing the best ad-lib ad would be given the use of a Mustang for a year.

Dailey purchased a total of 6,800 spots for the campaign.

"This is the way advertising used to be," said Cliff Einstein, president-creative director. "This is why people got into the business. It's entrepreneurial, it's exciting."

Although Ford has retained more overall market share in Cali fornia (28.1% in 1993) than either General Motors Corp. (22.9%) or Chrysler Corp. (10.4%), it has to play catch-up in the sporty car segment. GM's Chevrolet Camaro, in troduced a year ago, topped the segment last month, according to three-month averages calculated by J.D. Power & Associates.

Meanwhile, the southern California radio market, tradition ally strong because of the number of people commuting by car, may actually have been helped by the Jan. 17 earthquake. Freeway damage from the quake has kept many commuters in their cars even longer as a captive radio audience.

From the agency's standpoint, the media buy was a bargain, since many of the jocks thought nothing of talking about the event and the car well beyond the allotted 60-second spots.

Mustang Squadron followed a similar promotion a year ago for the introduction of the Ford Ranger truck. Ford took a slightly smaller contingent of DJs to Borrego Springs, about 60 miles east of San Diego, for an off-road ride-and-drive.

Sales of Rangers spiked 149% in the month following that promotion, said Bruce Collins, Dailey senior VP-management supervisor.

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