For 40 years, Advertising Age magazine has pored over marketing campaigns from corporations and politicians across America, with the goal of selecting its "Marketer of the Year". The winners have frequently come from the auto industry -- after all, automakers, dealers, and auto insurance agencies make up the largest advertising segment in the country -- but Ford Motor Company has consistently missed out on the fun. Until this year.
Yesterday, Ad Age had two big announcements. First, Apple was dubbed "Marketer of the Decade". (Given the nonstop barrage of gizmos Steve Jobs & Co. have been pushing since the iPod launched in 2001, that wasn't much of a surprise.) And second, Ford nabbed "Marketer of the Year".
Ford's win is well-deserved. For starters, the company's vice president of marketing, Jim Farley, has done an amazing job of refining (and redefining) the brand. Not only has Ford achieved a series of marketing coups -- like the social media phenom known as the Fiesta Movement and the buzz-fueled Facebook launch of the 2011 Explorer -- but it has also done so while whittling down Ford's line-up. The company's "One Ford" philosophy has eliminated models, cut an entire sub-brand (Mercury), and helped focus Ford's energies on core products and core consumers.
What's even more amazing is that the company achieved all this in the face of one of the largest economic disasters America -- indeed, the world -- has seen in years. Ford took the proverbial lemons and made one heck of a batch of lemonade, which has left the company sitting on 17% of U.S. market share. How? Ford gambled.
In late 2008, Detroit's Big Three went to Washington, begging for assistance. (Then they got sent home and had to repeat the whole process.) In the end, GM and Chrysler took billions of dollars in low-interest loans from the federal government, which might've saved the companies, but it left a terrible taste in the mouths of some consumers.
Ford had the option of taking bailout dough, but it never asked for more than a line of credit (which it never received). That resonated well with car buyers -- to the point that a recent survey showed 55% of shoppers were more likely to choose Ford precisely because they didn't take TARP money. According to Farley, that dicey move generated about $1 billion in coverage -- $1 billion in free, generally positive publicity, beyond the company's numerous successful ad campaigns.
If you have time this Tuesday, the full announcement and interview with Farley is a great read. And kudos to Ford: they earned this one several times over.