Digital Conference 2010

Ford's Jim Farley Says Recession Was a Blessing for Digital

Auto Marketing Chief Says More Ad Resources Needed for Post-Launch Campaigns

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NEW YORK ( -- That severe nosedive the economy took wasn't all bad for Detroit. Jim Farley, group VP-global marketing at Ford Motor Co., told attendees at Advertising Age's Digital Conference today that it was actually the best thing for automotive marketing, especially on the digital front.

Jim Farley
Jim Farley Credit: Gary He
"Everything has to work in this economy," Mr. Farley said. "If the economy hadn't dropped the way it did, we would have been on auto pilot and not experimented the way we did. Our production quality online is better than our broadcast."

That experimentation is led by what Mr. Farley calls the democratization of marketing. "It's the most important transition we are making," he said. Ford has been a big advocate of turning the brand over to consumers, and not just in the digital space. The automaker's TV spots featuring real Ford owners have been well-received.

"I can tell a story in 15 seconds now on TV, but I want customers to tell our story," Mr. Farley said. "That's what digital has shown us: how to earn credibility among consumers."

Mr. Farley said the company is also rethinking the way it approaches media planning. "If you look at a normal traditional media spend, it involves using traditional media when our cars are ... arriving at dealerships," he said. "Then we spend big on traditional broadcast media to get frequency." Mr. Farley said the more involved he got in making upfront media buys the less "right" it felt.

Spending shift
The Ford marketing chief said the new paradigm that media owners and clients have to get used to involves spending a lot more money in post-launch with new partners. "Yes, we still need traditional media partners and integration will become more and more important," Mr. Farley said. "But then post-launch we can't just go away. We have to allocate [social and digital] resources because these different resources change the content and the dialogue of the product after the launch. It's much more manageable, and it impacts how we build the product."

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Mr. Farley said it also completely changes the company's relationship with its media partners as well as the creative process. He said if an agency wants to partner with Ford, it needs to think differently because the car maker launches products in a different manner.

"We're about the person, not the website or channel. I'm not interested in advertising on a little box because what's important is what's in the box, not the box itself or wherever it is," he said. "The idea is to impact the experience. The box is just a window into a whole other world of experience if you do it right. We want to take that stupid little box we were forced into as advertisers and blow it up and change the way we interact with the customer, and we want it to be around the experience."

The company is also focusing on "executing" the brand globally. He said Ford sold all of its other brands including Volvo so that the company and consumers would focus solely on Ford-branded products. He noted that Ford has been losing market share for 14 years straight in the U.S. but managed to gain some back in the last 24 months.

"We shrank the company to make it grow, and to do that we transitioned our marketing, especially in the digital space," he said. "One out of every four dollars we spend is on digital, but we totally transformed how that money is being spent. We spend it mid-funnel. We're transitioning most of our digital spend to convincing consumers they should put Ford on their shopping lists. And the evidence shows we have made some great strides, and we are starting to see consumer sentiment change. We have a long way to go, but the quality sentiment is changing."

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