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Ford Finds Another Silver Lining In The Recession: Better Marketing

April 16, 2010
Jim Farley

Jim Farley

2011 Ford Fiesta

2011 Ford Fiesta

Most economists agree that America has finally turned a corner and is on-track for better times. So now would seem an opportune moment to look back and ponder what we've learned from the lean, recessionary months. Among the many things that Ford took away from the ordeal -- including better sales and a massively improved brand image -- was a new understanding of how to market itself, using digital media and content created by the company's own customers.

Speaking at the Advertising Age Digital Conference, Ford's marketing honcho, Jim Farley, talked about the importance of social media and other web-based tactics that Ford has leveraged to raise awareness of its products. Not only are sites like YouTube and Facebook free for advertisers to use, but they allow companies to make use of testimony from consumers -- which is almost always more effective than messages that come directly from a company itself. Said Farley, "I can tell a story in 15 seconds now on TV, but I want customers to tell our story... That's what digital has shown us: how to earn credibility among consumers."

The best example of that strategy in action is undoubtedly Ford's "Fiesta Movement", which we've covered quite a bit here at TCC. We were fairly skeptical when we first heard about the campaign, but it's been an unqualified success. (You can't argue with 60% name recognition before the a new model even arrives on the lots.) That sort of initiative wouldn't have been possible just a few years ago, but thanks to cheap video cams and the wonder of the interweb, the Fiesta Movement generated huge buzz for Ford. We're sure the automaker will eventually have a Crosstour moment or two, but for now, Ford is one of the darlings of social media.

That's not to say that Ford is ditching traditional advertising like TV, radio, billboards, and such. Those will remain an important part of the marketing mix, especially when the company launches all-out ad assaults as new vehicles arrive in showrooms. But the recession has put some shiny new tools in Ford's belt, and for that, Farley's thankful: "If the economy hadn't dropped the way it did, we would have been on auto pilot and not experimented the way we did."

Of course, Farley isn't really saying anything that most of us don't already know. For nearly two years, many of us have had to make sacrifices at home and at work -- some very severe, thanks to reduced personal income and, far too often, lost jobs. We've all had to think a little outside the box and do things differently. Some of those changes have been unpleasant, but others, like Ford's plunge into digital media, have been eye-opening. In fact, chances are pretty good that we'll keep some of these new habits for a while. Hopefully, Ford will, too.


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