Is Ford Playing the Age, Race, Gender Or Ethnicity Card?

May 19, 2010

So as I sat here today reading up on what was going on in the world of automobiles, I sipped my scalding hot coffee that was as thick as a Firestone truck tire, and almost as black (we had no milk), and then suddenly the caffeine kicked in, my cranial cogs started to grind away and my gray matter awoke. My shoddy hard drive of a memory recollected about specific car brands and particularly how they pitch their message to me, the guy who all the family comes to for car advice and then promptly ignores with a sneer.

And out of all the brands I could think of one series of ads from one manufacturer came to mind--Ford. But not for being particularly good, in my humble yet correct opinion, but more for what the Ford ad was telling me about who Ford was targeting, and less about the cars themselves, although they did try to drive home that message like a jack-hammer. These Ford ads got under my skin, but not for the right reasons.

Ford ran a series of ads called "Ford Drive One". The more I watched it, the more it annoyed me, and consequently stuck with me, like a bad taste in my mouth. But that is my very personal reaction. Their sales are telling me lots of people like their products (and I guess their message, too), but I couldn't help but feel agitated, and I couldn't put my finger on it. And then it dawned on me. Ford was playing the age/race/gender/ethnicity card to make their cars appeal to a wide audience.

If you watch the ad, you'll see that it's nicely filmed, there are lots of clear, simple images, they flash back and forth between the actors and the cars, and supporting it all is a catchy and insistent piece of music that really ties it together. But it was the requisite "let's have someone from every age/race/gender/ethnicity represented" that really rang hollow with me.

Why did the agency and I suppose some Ford marketing exec think that having every demographic in the world would sell the product and the message any better than a proper voice-over? Will seeing racial/cultural diversity of the actors really make someone from that racial/ethnic background want to buy a Ford? Does that actually have an influence? How about just the facts, ma'am--how about horsepower, mileage, crash safety, features? Why must they use serious, non-blinking, robotic-speaking actors who represent our diverse society talk at me?

And what's worse, they really talk at you--in short, repetitive, annoying sound bites. Oh, how that angers up the blood.

But I did find one thing really creative--a cunningly laid out psychological/image link. I don't know if it was intentional either. As the images of the cars flew by you, they showed all the models in all the colors of the Ford paint shop palette, interspersed and juxtaposed against all the different actors from whatever background they were supposed to come from. If I am reading into the subtext a little bit, I think Ford is saying that its rainbow of product is supposed to appeal to any racial/cultural/ethnic/age category its marketers think exist. I have to say, if that was the message, it was pitched cleverly in a visual way. But upon later introspection, it's a little too hollow for me.

Just show me new product, racing down an open road or pulling donuts in the parking lot or doing a rolling drop-off of the kids at school. Give me the facts, don't sell me the actors and the psychographic/demographic garbage.

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