Marketing, Motherhood, and Mayhem

Ford betting on social media over auto shows for launch

June 24th, 2010 by Deb McLean

Wanted to pass on an interesting article from USA Today. Really shows the power of social media in our society today! I’ll be very interested to see how this turns out.

By Sharon Silke Carty, USA TODAY
DEARBORN, Mich. — As Ford Motor attempts to make itself more relevant to the masses, it’s taking a unique marketing approach for the all-new Ford Explorer: launching it on Facebook instead of at an auto show.

Makes sense, considering customers may more likely be found hanging out online at the social-networking site with nearly 500 million members.

“We live in a 140-character society,” says Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, referring to the Twitter character limit. “When we have people’s attention, we want to make sure it sticks.”
Next week, Ford will begin its launch campaign for Explorer with teasers saying the SUV will be revealed “soon” on Facebook. Ford has not announced the date, just that it will be in July.

Production begins at the end of this year for the 2011 version of the vehicle that more than any other popularized the SUV. The original rolled out in 1990 as a 1991 model.

The new Explorer will, for the first time, be a car-based crossover, not a body-on-frame truck. Ford says the new model will get 25% better fuel economy, will have more safety features (such as inflating rear seat belts) and have a terrain-management system that lets drivers select drivetrain and suspension settings to fit the road or landscape.

The current Ford Explorer is “an old-school SUV,” says Jake Fisher, senior engineer at Consumer Reports. “The new Ford Explorer is the type of vehicle that people want. It should hit the market much better than the last generation.”

The marketing message will stress that the new Explorer better matches drivers’ lives. “You’re not going to see Explorer parked at the top of a cliff” in ads, says Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing communications for Ford.

Over two decades, Explorer’s marketing themes never strayed far from the outdoorsy life. Ads often showed it splashing through mud, winding around mountain roads and, yes, parked on cliffs.

The rugged SUV image went from cool and exciting in the ’90s to a politically incorrect gas hog in the 2000s. Only 52,000 of the aging Explorers sold in 2009, down from 480,000 in its 1998 peak. The new one will be “realistic, yet aspirational,” says Ford marketing manager Eric Peterson. “People still want to go someplace new and different. … It’s just not something they’ll take to the top of K2.”
Linking the Explorer with Ford’s social-marketing strategy could help the brand be more relevant. Monty says Ford is using the Internet to help customers see it not as a faceless monolith, but as an organization of people like them who can answer questions, and listen to ideas and complaints.

Still, the Explorer reveal on Facebook is chancy.
“The auto industry is so closely tied to reviews and news from traditional media outlets that I think it is a risky move to eliminate an auto show announcement,” says Heidi Sullivan, vice president of media research for Cision. But, “The buzz created could far outweigh any negative reactions.”

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