Ford bets big in digital marketing departure

* Ford heads automakers in Facebook, YouTube efforts

* Sees digital spending more efficient than Super Bowl ads

By Bernie Woodall

DETROIT, Nov 1 (BestGrowthStock) – Forget the Super Bowl: Ford’s
marketing chief Jim Farley says he can get more for less on
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

If Farley is right, millions of hits for Ford Motor Company
(F.N: ) on social media websites will dwarf the impact of ads
broadcast during the National Football League’s February
championship game — high-profile space selling for $3 million
for 30 seconds.

“Customers are spending as much time with the mobile smart
phone or online as they are watching TV now, so our advertising
dollars have to flow to where the people are,” Farley told
Reuters in an interview.

Under Farley, 48, who joined Ford from Toyota Motor Co
(7203.T: ) in 2007, the No. 2 U.S. automaker has bet bigger on
the emerging category of digital advertising including websites
and social media than any of its rivals.

Farley has taken the approach credited with the early
success of the youth-oriented Scion brand he launched at Toyota
and applied it to the makeover of an established auto brand.

He is betting Ford can use Facebook and Twitter to
accelerate the word-of-mouth recommendations long familiar to
the auto industry and help the blue-oval brand connect with
younger and richer people.

Farley said he learned at Scion that the only way to push
past consumer skepticism is “to break into their world.”

“You have to shove your way in there. The way we do that is
to break down myths. The great thing about Americans is they
are always hungry for something new,” he said.

Ford’s U.S. sales are up almost 22 percent so far this
year, twice the growth rate of the industry overall.

Farley’s term at Ford has coincided with a sharp turnaround
in its image. ALG, a firm that tracks consumer perceptions,
said in a report issued on Monday that Ford cars and trucks
lead all brands in gains in perceived quality since 2008.

FORD SEEKS FACEBOOK FRIENDS

Farley, who is seen as a potential successor to Ford Chief
Executive Alan Mulally, called the Super Bowl, “a fantastic
advertising opportunity” — for unknown brands.

“If you are a company that wants to launch a new product
that no one has ever seen before, it’s a great venue.”

Under Farley, Ford has spent 25 percent of its advertising
budget on digital media in 2010, the same proportion as in
2009. That ratio is twice what J.D. Power and Associates says
will be the average digital media spend in 2012.

Farley would not disclose the dollar amount of that
spending.

One of the first experiments in Ford’s new approach was its
2009 move to recruit Web-based “agents” who would help promote
its launch of the Fiesta subcompact. In a follow-up, Ford used
Facebook to reveal key aspects of the Explorer SUV rather than
wait for an established auto show.

Now, Ford is seeking “bloggers, social media mavens and
Facebook friends” to submit video applications to be one of 100
who will drive the 2012 Focus around southern France or Spain
early next year, ahead of the car’s launch.

The effort, called “Ford Focus Global Test Drive” seeks to
create buzz ahead of the launch of a vehicle central to
Mulally’s vision for a streamlined product lineup.

Farley said that the Fiesta campaign had boosted consumer
awareness of the Ford subcompact over direct competitors like
the Honda Fit or the Toyota Yaris. At the same time, Ford only
spent one tenth of what it would have through traditional
media, including television, he said.

Farley’s moves mark something of a contrast with the
approach by cross-town rival General Motors Co [GM.UL].

Under its new marketing chief Joel Ewanick, GM is pushing
back into advertising at the kinds of high-profile, high-cost
events like the Super Bowl that it had abandoned in its slide
toward bankruptcy.

In one example, last week GM rolled out a campaign for
Chevrolet that plays to its base — patriotic Americans with
memories of the days when Chevy dominated.

By contrast, Ford is playing up the new elements in its
product line-up, both new vehicles and new technology like the
MyFord Touch system for navigation, entertainment and
communications in campaigns that include videos for Google’s
(GOOG.O: ) YouTube.

Charlie Vogelheim, executive editor of Intellichoice, a
consumer auto consultant, said Ford had pushed beyond its
rivals in the way that it is building online buzz.

“Everyone is involved in digital marketing. The extent that
Ford is doing it, wrapping it around events and utilizing the
media with its launches, that is where Ford is taking
leadership,” he said.
(Reporting by Bernie Woodall. Editing by Robert MacMillan)

Ford bets big in digital marketing departure