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Ford Motor Company was founded almost 106 years ago and it's been through its fair share of ups and downs over the years. But like other auto manufacturers, it's currently in a battle to survive one of the toughest economic environments ever seen.

So it's doing what other great companies have done throughout the years when faced with a great challenge: it's taking a risk. In this case, it's turning to social media.

And that means turning the keys over to 100 20-somethings with no marketing experience and letting them run with their own campaign, the 'Fiesta Movement', to promote Ford's new 2010 Fiesta, a small car that Ford hopes is just what the doctor ordered for this market.

Ford selected the group of nouveaux marketers after reviewing thousands of videos uploaded to YouTube by prospective participants. Those selected will be given a new Fiesta for six months and Ford will take care of gas and auto insurance expenses. In return, participants are asked to upload, post and tweet about their experience with the car that Ford is hoping it can pin its turnaround on.

At a time when Ford is struggling, the campaign presents some clear risks and there are many unknowns.

Will the 20-somethings it has recruited and lent Fiestas to have nice things to say about it? Will they produce a coherent message that positions the new car effectively in the marketplace? Do they wield enough influence to move the needle? Will they produce something that's only of interest to us marketing types but utterly un-interesting to consumers?

Nobody knows. When all is said and done Ford may wind up with a new recipe for marketing success or it could find the entire effort to be a complete waste and perhaps even detrimental to its own marketing efforts once the Fiesta is ready to ship to showrooms.

Of course nobody can fault Ford for trying. It needs to take risks; its future may depend on it.

But for all of the industry excitement and interest in Ford's experiment, much of which is deserved, I think we should be careful about getting too excited. These are trying times and there's an inconvenient truth everyone should accept: people just aren't buying new cars.

There's only so much marketing you can do to change that; even less troubled auto manufacturers like Toyota are finding the current market to be extremely difficult to navigate.

Furthermore, it should also be recognized that Ford's challenges aren't strictly marketing-based. Yes, launching the Fiesta successfully and winning over American consumers who have flocked to foreign-made autos over the years is important, but so is profitability.

Unlike the trucks and SUVs that Ford thrived and dived on, small cars like the Fiesta typically have much smaller profit margins. If Ford can't make enough money from the Fiesta, it won't matter how many of them it sells.

If Ford's experiment flops, many will read too much into it even though the overall situation made it a long shot in the first place. If it exceeds expectations, it will be easy for nay-sayers to point out that expectations were low to begin with.

So while Ford has nothing to lose by letting social media drive its new car into the marketplace, it may not have as much to gain as some think it does.

Photo credit: exfordy via Flickr.

Patricio Robles

Published 9 April, 2009 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2392 more posts from this author

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Lee @SoGettingRich.com

I think it's brilliant and forward thinking. There's no room to stand on the sidelines. Car manufacturers need to get in the game. Get their feet wet.

When the makers of Jaquar do the same, heaven and earth won't stop me from getting in on that marketing show down. I will Twitter about them until my sample Jag purrrrssss.

Good luck Ford.

Lee

over 7 years ago

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Cecilia

An interesting experiment. And why not? My take on it is: if what you have been doing isn't working, do something different - no use flogging a dead horse, as the saying goes.

Ford is to be commended for not just rolling over and playing dead, in my opinion.

To stir the pot a bit: to raise the profit margin on the Fiesta and other non-luxury vehicles they could go non-union... Ah, silly me :)

over 7 years ago

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Nathan Fitzgerald

It's unbelieveable to me that marketers still think that the 20-somethings are where we need to be focusing. They are NOT our largest demographic (the Boomers are). They are also NOT the wealthiest demographic (the Boomers are - despite the hit to the economy and Boomer's wealth). Also, the fastest growing demographic in Social Media with places like FaceBook is again - the Baby Boomers.

So Ford has truly decided to do something 'risky' - not the fact that they are using Social Media, nor is it the fact that they are having non-professional marketers be the catalysts to their campaign...no, the true risk is that they've decided...AGAIN...to focus on the wrong audience...Madison Avenue's 18-20 somethings.

-Nathan Fitzgerald

Director, Business Relationship - Immersion Active

over 7 years ago

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Steve Poppe

Great move by Ford.  I'm going to assume that the screening process was pretty thoughtful and thorough, but if the cars are good the feedback will be good.  It's daring because you always run the risk of a DWI or some other negative occurrence, but the upside is way up.  Did I say as  long as the cars are good?    

over 7 years ago

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Pete

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I would imagine the feedback will be highly positive, firstly it is a good car that has got good reviews anyway but surely if you give a 20 year old a car for 6 months with free petrol and insurance they are going to feel they 'owe' something back and will give it a good review, they might feel slightly rude or unappreciative by slating it!

Plus it gets further publicity becasue it is a novel idea, would we all be talking about the new Ford Fiesta now if they hadn't done this?

over 7 years ago

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Bertrand de La Selle

What's for sure is that Car Marketers will have a close look at this initiative.

To me the big question remains : what will success look like ? What are there KPis for this ? Direct sales ? Level of buzz (volume, sentiment) ? Influence over sales (ie "I bought the Fiesta after having seen the reviews") ?

I'd love to see the scorecard of this campaign.

over 7 years ago

Jonathan Moody

Jonathan Moody, Freelance at Language4Communications

As many of us agree, Ford is to be commended in sticking it's neck out. I just hope that they've done a thorough analysis of the social media in which thier target group converse about things automotive and communicated that to the fortunate 100. Yes that includes, Twitter, yes that includes Facebook (i've just namechecked where social media starts and ends for many people, unfortunately) but also countless forums and blogs where the level of debate and expertise lends a credibility to the opinions therein expressed.

Also, have Ford looked at the reach of these media - Alexa traffic ranking, website traffic, frequency of update, originality of content, interactivity of the media?

And while they're about it, Ford, could also think abot leveraging the myriad supportive comments ALREADY expressed in social media, especially by those who have parted with their hard-earned for a Ford Fiesta (or one of their other models) or engaging with those who are considering doing so....there are lots out there....

over 7 years ago

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