Ford Hopes to Put Onetime Best-Seller 'Back on a Pedestal'

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division finally gave its flagship sedan, the Taurus, its first national ad campaign since fall 2000.

Advertising for the midsize car, which competes against the hot-selling Camry from Toyota Motor Sales USA and the Accord from American Honda Motor Co., for the past two years has come only from Ford's regional dealer ad associations. The new national campaign, which broke over the weekend, is meant to put "the Taurus back on a pedestal," said Ford's Rick Novak, car advertising manager.

Surprised businessman
WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, created the campaign's single 30-second spot. The ad shows a businessman surprised with the luxury highlights of the Taurus, which actually belongs to his chauffeur.

Mr. Novak declined to discuss the campaign's cost, but said Taurus will get more ad spending in the 2003 model year in an integrated media push. Ford spent $7.8 million in measured media on Taurus through August 2002 and $11.2 million in 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. He also said that while Ford's overall ad budget will be the same as the 2002 model year, the automaker has shifted funds from events and sponsorships into traditional media.

The spot will air through the 2003 model year on national broadcast and cable networks, while two half-page print spreads will appear in December weekly and January monthly magazines. Banner ads break in January on popular car-shopping sites. The ad campaign is targeted at consumers between the ages of 25 and 54, married, and with annual household incomes of more than $45,000.

'Raise purchase considerations'
Mr. Novak said the goal of the campaign is to "raise purchase considerations of the Ford Taurus by showcasing its simple elegance and fit and finishes inside and out."

The brand's purchase consideration among buyers is roughly in the 30% range, but Ford wants to improve that to 40% or 50%, said Christopher Roe, marketing manager for the car. The top models, Camry and Accord, are in the 50% to 60% range, he said.

Ford said it expects to sell at least 325,000 Tauruses this year and in 2003. But sales of the car this year through October slipped by nearly 11% to 275,279 units vs. the same period a year ago, Ford announced early this month. Sales of Ford's entire car line during the same period slipped by 13% to 742,464 units.

Fleet customers
Roughly half of all Taurus sales are to fleet customers -- rental car companies and corporate fleets, said Steve Lyons, president of Ford Division. "It's not a bad business for us. We do make pretty good money at it."

Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI, said he was shocked to learn Ford only backed Taurus with regional advertising for the past two years.

"What other flagship at any other carmaker gets regional advertising?" he said. "Their decision to do that tells you how Ford prioritized Taurus -- the emphasis was on trucks and the Focus [small-car line]." Taurus has a "long way to go to catch up with the segment leaders," he added.

Once a best-seller
Taurus was the nation's best-selling car from 1992 to 1996. When Ford launched the second-generation Taurus in fall 1995 as a 1996 model, it gave the car an ad blitz that carried what was then the division's highest-ever price tag: $110 million.

The reason Taurus was advertised by regional dealer ad groups was the complexity of special deals and options' packages, said Joe Castelli, car marketing manager at the division. For example, groups in the West offered a free moon roof option while Texas promoted a free upgrade to anti-lock brakes.

"The [regional] packages were really confusing internally for us," he said.

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