Category Archives: Ford

Ford honesty, or avoiding cognitive dissonance

Today Ford became the first automaker to launch a new vehicle via Facebook — with 12 updates providing a striptease of the new, more fuel-efficient Ford Explorer. We noted earlier in a guest post at Brandflakes that Ford seeded the campaign with an estimated $200,000-a-day in paid online advertising (thus dissing Mashable’s love note that social media works solely on its own). But beyond the integrated advertising-supporting-social synergy, what we really like is Ford’s honesty.

Honesty? That’s right. This entire bit is overtly promotional — there’s new sheet metal coming to the lots, boys! — and it’s all about selling the SUV. But that’s refreshing in a day when many brands resort to paying for tweets or shooting films of guys “walking across America” who really get there by van and hotel.

Sources matter

One cause of cognitive dissonance in modern communications is consumers get confused when they can’t determine the source of information. This wasn’t always the case; in the past, advertising was obviously paid, so you judged it with your guard up, like evaluating the pitch of a car salesperson. Editorial was supposedly unbiased, the external news collected by an altruistic reporter, and you reviewed it with similar guard against the mind of the writer. But today’s paid posts? Sponsored tweets? Quasi viral-truths? That’s all so confusing. And the risk is all communications will become less persuasive as consumers wonder which upstream sources are trying to bend their minds.

Ford ignored the temptation to pay people online to manipulate you, and instead paid for ads to invite you to a simple, clear social party. We find such honesty refreshing. We may not buy your truck, Scott Monty, but at least we can see where it’s coming from.

Corporations in swimsuits: Are you faking social media?

Digital strategist Jordan Julien got us thinking about “synthetic authenticity,” the risk large corporations face as they try to engage customers in social media. The problem, Jordan says, is social media tools were built for individual people to interact with each other, but suddenly faceless entities — big brands with big names — are entering the space.

This creates a cognitive dissonance that can erode trust. Say you lob a question at Nike Plus on Twitter and get a response. Who wrote it? Do you trust their opinion? Is it a real person’s thought, or a brand spinning its own future sales?

Jordan suggests one solution is to add real faces to your corporate persona. Instead of trying to make a brand act human, put real humans in charge. Earlier this year Mashable listed its favorite 40 companies on Twitter; the list is worth reviewing to see how “human” they act. Here is Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas responding to a guest:

OK, that’s a start. Luxor gives us an attractive woman in a swimsuit chatting about hot dogs. But the most authentic brands online are the ones that give us real people’s names. Surprisingly, the auto industry has been leading this charge. Scott Monty at Ford gets press, but here’s Adam Denison, PR guy for Chevy, offering a human connection:

What? A Chevy marketing executive is asking for help building PowerPoint? Exactly. Suddenly the big auto brand seems like a potential colleague, a guy looking for advice. While Adam uses Twitter to answer questions about Camaros and promote his brand, he also chats about Mormon missionaries, crows about BYU football, hints he is an avid golfer, and wades into debates about Swine Flu. You know. A quirky, opinionated, helpful real human being. If we ever considered a Chevy, we’d reach out to him instantly.

Yes, it’s a risk to let real people become the touchpoints between the brand you’ve carefully crafted for decades and the consumers who use it. But the bigger risk is you blow it, eroding trust from an audience that will tune you out. If even giant IBM can have Twitter streams authored by real people, so can you.

Graphic: The Jordan Rules

The moral hazard of superheroes and social media

Say, perhaps in a dream, you are Catwoman. You have to chase bad guys through the middle of a city. On your way you need to smash a few walls, crush a few cars, but that’s OK — superheroes don’t have to clean up the mess.

That’s one example of moral hazard, the concept that people protected from risk tend to act in different and often unhealthy ways. History is full of unintended disasters caused by moral hazard — consumers or businesses who pollute the environment because they are decades away from the eventual impact; the recent subprime mortgage meltdown in which unaccountable sales agents or banks made silly loans; or the classic teenager driving his dad’s car way too fast, since he won’t foot the repair bill.

Which brings us to advertising. Marketers are itching to broadcast inside social media, and some of the best efforts involve innovative personal connections (Scott Monty at Ford is one shining example). However, many companies are beginning to simply buy their way into human networks, and the result is a growing pollution of quasi-authentic messages. We’ve written before in BusinessWeek on what a future world of sponsored opinions might look like. Since no individual consumer, or business, bears the cost of the broader clutter — they are protected in moral hazard — the barriers to entry are small. You can sign up now to have third-party companies broadcast inside your Tweets, and make a few pennies, so what’s the harm? The result often looks like this.

Yes, we’ve been critical of such paid pollution, which at root is different from advertising because it misrepresents the source of the message. So in the coming weeks we’ll explore some of the positive ways marketers are using social media, without damaging cars or buildings. Stay tuned.

Ford test drives a Plaid

We’re on a plane today bound for California so will leave you with this roadtrip campaign by our friends at interactive shop Plaid. They’re touring middle America to see what brands and agencies are doing on the cutting edge of social media.

Above, Plaid interviews Scott Monty, head of Ford’s social media program. Scott just passed the Year 1 mark at Ford in the role, and we’re sure it wasn’t always easy — don’t miss his post on the bumps and successes along the way. Critics might see it all as just another PR move, but we think Scott is forging something different — an outreach program that moves beyond the brand. We’ve seen Scott congratulate competitors for winning awards, get back to people on Sundays, and rail on the silliness of stupid marketers. Scott is making Ford seem human.

And that’s just one stop. You can follow Plaid’s two-week journey at

(Full disclosure: Plaid invited us to guest post at their Top 100 blog Brandflakes for Breakfast while they’re out playing. We may not give the keys back.)

Despite the hookers, Ford gets paid posts right

The Ford Fiesta is the American auto success you’ve never heard of. This tiny car is built abroad in places such as Brazil and India, has sold more than 12 million units worldwide since 1976, and its diesel version gets a whopping 65 miles to the gallon. But demand for so-called “supermini” cars has been lackluster in the U.S., up until now.

So Ford is launching the car in the States with a social-media buzz campaign. Ford has enlisted 100 “agents” for an extended six-month test drive, who can tweet, blog, or post photos about their rides. As we’ve noted in the past, marketers are recruiting consumers to promote products by buying their reviews in social media, and this often creates conflicts of interest … in which readers are uncertain how sincere, or what the source of, a communication is. The issue is controversial in ad circles, and even Google has weighed in, demanding that paid posts include no-follow tags to keep the quasi-ad-material off search engines.

Ford avoids the greasy, buying-your-mind feel of many paid campaigns by doing several things right. Users can write what they want (Diablito Damian jokes he’s using the car to pick up prostitutes). The car rentals are tied to several “mission” competitions unrelated to payment — have a graffiti artist paint a wall in your house — that resonate in the young target demo, and are staged to help continue the buzz about the campaign. And test drives are aggregated in almost a Consumer Reports-vibe portal.

On the spectrum of paid posts, between cash-for-shilling and access-for-reviews, Ford strikes a balance that’s more informational than promotional. The debate on paying for opinions isn’t going away, and the approach may become less useful as the social media streams become crowded with promotions. For now, driving to find hookers feels right.

Hat tip to Todd Sanders.

Ford: Drive fast and you kill plants

Notice anything green at the right of this dash display?

Ford and Smart Design have released a prototype for the dashboard of the future — an electronic display that uses iconic visual representations to convey information clearly, without distracting, so you don’t crash the car. One of the nice touches is a fuel-efficiency symbol at right. Ford research showed consumers often want to get a “high score” for mileage, so the display uses an organic symbol of growing leaves to convey your impact on the planet. Go easy on the gas and the leaves bloom; accelerate hard and the leaves wither and die. Clever.

Via David Armano.

Plaid: Yes, lawyers, there is no Santa Claus

Scott Monty over at Ford shared a laugh. A leader at another organization called a lawyer. Which business would you rather brag about?

Our final holiday story revolves around Plaid, a Connecticut brand shop that created a mock video for Christmas in which you can insert anyone’s name into a “news report” that they’re having, ahem, scandalous intimacy with Santa or Mrs. Claus. Completely over the top. And completely safe for work — no nudity, no vulgarity, a few uses of the word “sex” as you’d find on the evening news. When Monty got the link at Ford, he forwarded the humor on to 6,600+ people who follow his thoughts on Twitter.

Unfortunately another organization who got the link, unlike Ford, didn’t get the joke. They sent Darryl Ohrt, principal of Plaid, a nasty note hinting that the online art was defamation. (We look forward to hearing of the alleged material damages to a person’s reputation resulting from a rumor that one slept with Santa Claus.)

The real story is not about appropriateness or monitoring employees’ use of the internet … but about the brand implications on both organizations. Ford comes off like a hip company that has a bit of fun (and we’re sure Ford has plenty of lawyers, too). But this other group, well, feels as grouchy as an HR executive pricked by a physician’s needle.

Is your organization loose enough to share a laugh with employees and customers? Or is your brand heart two sizes too small?

Chevy Vegas and Dodge Darts: Consumers remember when you’re bad

When we were a teenager learning to drive, our father told us of a Dodge Dart he once owned where the shift lever came off in his hand. We laughed as he recalled the f***-ing crappy design and how it almost killed him, as he went down a hill across an intersection with the rod waving in the air … it was in fact the first time we heard our dad drop the F bomb.

More than 25 years later we still think of American cars as substandard, even though some, especially Ford, have improved quality and come forth with innovative, efficient designs.The ad above, for the 72 Chevy Vega, may represent the worst automobile of all time, according to a U.S. consumer survey. That car was littered with design defects; pistons were mismatched to cylinders, the carburetor tended to catch fire, the body oozed rust. Bob Eicholz of Hollywood, Calif., commented “after 20,000 miles of gentle driving, it needed a valve job, and possibly a new engine, a new clutch, a new transmission sync gear and new tires.”

The irony of marketing is that consumers need incredible stimuli to think differently about a product tomorrow, but they carry word-of-mouth opinions from yesterday for decades. Once a person’s mind is set against a product, it’s almost impossible to change. The recoil of Americans as they ponder a vast bailout for the U.S. auto industry is almost amazingly unpatriotic, until you consider the pent-up anger consumers feel based on decades of automotive design incompetence. Yes, U.S. cars have improved dramatically … but buyers still remember.

As you head into the new year it might be worth mapping what customers think about your past products. Like a therapist trying to improve a relationship, you can’t move people forward until you address the sins of the past.

The Ford Story: Microsite as press release

Historians will recall 2008 as the year online video became the main tool for public influence. First Obama ruled the web with constant updates, then McCain tried to catch up by showing off his bus. Now Ford is seeking to influence lawmakers with a microsite touting the benefits of the auto bailout.

Ford’s effort is comprehensive, with spokesperson Scott Monty reaching out to infuencers on Twitter and a web site filled with video from Ford execs explaining their vision and business plan. The site includes ways to share the message by posting on blogs (like this one), emailing friends, and even a ZIP Code lookup field that gives you the phone number of your local Congressional rep.

How many will this reach? Ford’s main web site got 3 million unique visitors in November, and the new “Story” microsite is heavily promoted on the Ford home page. For the polarizing forces on either end of the American apathetic spectrum most likely to swing the bailout vote in the U.S. Senate, Ford has created fluid access to its side of the story. It’s also worth noting who is missing from this picture: The newspaper and magazine editors who historically decided whether a press release was worth disseminating to the general populace.

How transparent are you?

An Australian blogger we know under the nom de plume Kelpenhagen wrote a great bit recently on transparency — asking how much personal information she or anyone should reveal online. Anonymity has its merits; it can intrigue (think Joe Klein as Anonymous writing about Bill Clinton) and protect (think about who you really are, where you live, and whether the world should track your personal dating habits).

Personally, we’ve almost given up on hiding anything. If you work in any supply chain — as a manager or marketing executive or ad agency director — you must balance the fear of upsetting your clients or suppliers or employees with your opinions vs. not being “real” and never making a connection. The most nimble modern communicators, such as Scott Monty of Ford or Tony Hsieh of Zappos, use blogs and Twitter to connect with thousands as real people. There are idiocies emerging, too. Many use social media to broadcast all about themselves, like that accountant you met at the holiday party who just won’t shut up about a tax-savings scheme. If you do expose your real identity, try to listen more than you talk. If you publish a book, drop a hint but for god’s sake don’t write 30 blog posts about it.

The most terrifying trap of social media is for people to get caught up in self-monitoring, tracking how many “followers” they have on Twitter or the number of daily readers of their blog. If you reveal yourself, and if you speak for an organization, the meaning of what you say will go further than the number of links you create to the world.

Our own recommendation is to be real, be open, and let the chips fall where they may. In this new age of the internet, people will find you if they want anyway. We just started a professional relationship with Segway and yesterday sent them a clip of a monkey falling off the two-wheeled gyro-scooter. For a second, we feared they might be offended. But what the hell. Laughing is part of who we are.

Photo by Phil H.