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Bad Advertising – Ford Needs to “Learn One”

I think you might want to sell your Ford stock, if you have any, and if selling the stock results in anything more than pocket change (last trade was at $7.09). Here's why. One of the things I talk about is the general ineffectiveness of unmeasured, broad-market advertising as compared to the measured performance you […]

I think you might want to sell your Ford stock, if you have any, and if selling the stock results in anything more than pocket change (last trade was at $7.09).

Here's why.Ford - Drive One

One of the things I talk about is the general ineffectiveness of unmeasured, broad-market advertising as compared to the measured performance you can get from Direct Response.

Okay, not all ads have to be direct response.

Oh wait a minute…YES THEY DO!

Because when you give someone a very motivating reason to take a specific and identifiable action — RIGHT NOW — you know exactly how effective your advertising is.

And you know that if you spend a dollar, and you're making two (or ten), that you can continue to spend more dollars. But if you make only 50 cents, you stop.

Simple logic, right?

SO WHAT'S UP WITH FORD?

It was in the last page of the Marketplace section of the Wall Street Journal on Monday in an article about Ford's new marketing efforts. ("Ford Aims to Wow Key Group: Its Dealers", http://online.wsj.com/article/SB120812172914911177.html )

In a meeting with Ford Dealers, Ford's Vice President, Jim Farley said "Get your people excited!"

Excited over WHAT?

People — even car salespeople — have built in BS detectors that come especially alive when they're being "sold to", so THEY KNOW when they're being lied to, or are fed a line of garbage that can't be supported.

You know that's happening when people TELL you to be excited, or use adjectives like "Amazing", "Great" and "Fantastic" in their marketing copy.

Empty words.

So what does Ford want you to be excited about?

Their new marketing campaign based around this slogan: "Ford: Drive One"

Oooh. Exciting.

Getting out your checkbook yet?

Ready to trade in your Toyota?

Farley goes on to say that they are going to stick with this marketing theme "for a long time".

This paragraph stunned me:

  "While the new campaign relies on big, traditional
  media buys to get out the message — the first ads
  appeared during American Idol last week — Mr.
  Farley is also hoping to spark a ripple effect by
  word of mouth. But he acknowledged that it could
  be five years before the company knows how
  well the 'Drive One' themes resonate with
  customers."

FIVE YEARS!!!

In 2006 and 2007, Ford lost a combined $15.3 BILLION. And they want to wait five years to see if this slogan works?

Apparently, this new stick-to-it-for-five-years idea is a "radical departure from previous campaigns" which were "dreamed up in the executive suite."

I don't see why this is much better. And the fact that they're going to stick with it for five years — and risk potential losses of $38 billion at their current rate — makes it substantially worse.

So how did Ford try to excite its dealers? It was at their annual dealer convention…

  "Ford Engineers gave side-by-side demonstrations
  highlighting the 'solid' sound of shutting Ford doors
  compared with competitiors. Others filled dealers
  in on the type of paint that resists nicks and scratches,
  and on environmentally friendly innovations like
  soy-based seat foam.

  This is to make believers out of them," John Felice,
  Ford's general marketing manager, said of the pitch
  to dealers."

If you're not shaking your head in disbelief right now, or laughing out loud (or crying, in case you actually DO own Ford stock), then there's a big lesson here for you.

ADVICE FOR YOUR BUSINESS

Unless you have a few billion dollars to waste (which I'm guessing you don't), then you should:

* ALWAYS MEASURE – Make all your advertising measurable. If you don't believe me, then believe Dan Kennedy. In his book "NO BS Direct Marketing" he says "From now on, ye shall spend no dollar withouit tracking the ROI (return on investment)". How do you do that? Use Google Analytics — free — at the very least.

* TEST everything. Don't run just one ad, run two. Or four. And see which one pulls best. Use the ability in Adwords to run multiple ads in the same ad group, if you use Adwords. Or, use Google's Website Optimizer for your landing page. Both are Free (even for Ford).

* FAIL FAST. Run a test. As soon as you reach statistical significance (that means you've got enough results to be sure one ad is better than the other) KILL the bad ad and start trying to beat the good one with a new ad. But as soon as you see something is not working, kill it.

* DON'T TELL PEOPLE how to feel. Use your marketing to MAKE THEM feel it.

* Or better yet, KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER and figure out what they're feeling. Then magnify those feelings to their advantage and yours (after all, if you solve their problem with your product, you're BOTH happy, right?)

HOW FORD CAN FIX THIS

So, what can Ford do to get on a better track? Well, I see it this way. They've got 50 states and probably dozens of dealer groups (collections of dealer who are geographically close) in this country alone.

That's a great opportunity for testing, don't you think?

1) I'd run a contest between the groups. Take a year, and get each group (or state, or whatever unit they want to work with) to develop their own advertising campaigns.

2) Encourage radical thinking. Require measurement and testing. (Demand better than "Drive One" …LOL)

3) See which group has the largest increase in advertising over the course of that year.

4) Roll out that campaign nationwide.

5) First prize: HUGE INCREASE in sales for the winning group DURING the contest.

6) Bonus prize: All the dealers in that region share in a slice of the increased profit (or reduced loss, as the case may be) over the first two or three years that the campaign runs nationwide.

You want EXCITEMENT from the dealers?

Let's see how that kind of CASH motivates them.

Anyway, I do hope you take all of this to heart. Ford is going to pay billions of dollars for this lesson. Even if you don't ever "Drive One" of their cars, I hope you "Learn One" of their lessons.

You may as well, because I doubt that Ford will.

To Your Success,

–Mark Widawer

P.S. Do you believe that some Ad executive actually got paiid to come up with Drive One? I've no idea how much, or if Ford paid some agency, or just one of their own execs in the corporate suite to come up with this.

Either way, if you're a Ford shareholder, write the company and tell them to get their act in gear. If you're not, vent here instead. Leave your comment at http://www.trafficandconversion.com/ .

16 replies on “Bad Advertising – Ford Needs to “Learn One””

Ford isn’t doing everything right (what company does?), but they are doing some cool things. The jury’s out on whether or when this new campaign will work out, but the message is clear. Just go drive one.

Until I spent a week recently with an Escape Hybrid, I hadn’t driven a Ford in years. I came away from the experience impressed. Sure, there were things I didn’t love about the little SUV, but the fact remained … the Escape Hybrid is capable of delivering up to 40 MPG in the city when driven carefully.

How smart is the Smart car is in the city, when a SUV trumps it in gas mileage?

I’ll be reviewing three more Ford models by the time that summer rolls around. I’m really looking forward to putting the SYNC system through the paces.

Cameron Johnson gave the best description of Fords attitude to success. His father regularly ran the best dealership in the USA and yet they did not listen to suggestions or try to copy what he did. Absolute customer service. Help everyone buy. Give real financial help, get the model they want etc. If the wife needs to say yes as well then drive the car out to find the wife. Even if she is at the hairdresser. Drive the car there and ask her.

Ford would do well to think about what really matters to consumers in this day of mind-boggling gas prices.

We all know the technology is there to give us many times the miles per gallon we now get – if they implemented that and advertised the fact, those cars would fly off the lots.

Guess they’re too afraid of big government and the oil companies to make such a radical move.

Meanwhile… you’re right. Committing 5 years to a lame slogan is insanity.

Do people in highly paid positions ever consider such mundane ideas as ROI?

One of the problems with the auto industry isn’t so much the ad campaigns, but the cars. And that takes years to turn around. Ford can’t say “we need to make a high mileage crossover for Fall”. They say “we need to make a high mileage crossover for 2011.”

In the meantime, they’re trying to beef up their brand image… not a direct response campaign, but do something that says “we’re so confident in the quality of our cars, that we know if you drive one, you’ll buy one.”

Branding initiatives rely on many impressions over a long period of time, creating a gradual perception shift. Remember, when you’re big and famous instead of a small marketer, people will come out of the woodwork to pick apart and criticize everything you do (ahhem). And while you may be going nuts over their campaign, if they were changing their approach every three months, searching for one that sticks, a lot of the public would think they were schizoid and the major media would be saying things like “sign of desperation” and “grasping at straws.”

Then watch where their stock goes.

Nothing unusual for Ford to have bad advertising campaigns. Ford “We have ignition” what were they dieseling gasoline for the past 70 years and finally discovered Kettering ignition systems, no wonder they used so much fuel. How about “Have you driven a Ford lately” no but my friend crashed one so now the jingle in my head is “Have you stacked a Ford lately”.
But there is “nothing quite like a Holden” or should it be “Something not quite right with a Holden”, they always run out of fuel.

Very cool analysis of that absurd marketing plan.

Hmm…how many billions can we burn through before seeing
if this thing is working or bombing? DUH!!!!

It’s the good old “Brand Advertising BS that big ad companies
love selling because it removes their being accountable for
results and failure for years while cashing HUGE checks the
whole time.

DO NOT ever think of letting anyone fool you with “Brand Advertising
BS”. Ads have one purpose…to get an immediate response or
call to action. (whether that is an opt in, a phone call, a sale, etc)

Really enjoyed your post. 🙂
Tom

Mark,

Having previously worked for a major British bank for 20 years, this “inside the box” thinking is sadly no surprise.

In spite of all of the grandiose-sounding cliches, such as “our staff are our biggest asset” and “customer first”, they rarely, if ever, listened to their staff or their customers, any of whom could have told them that most of their marketing sucked.

For example, who in their right mind would continue to promote and sell equipment that they knew to be faulty and could explode in a customer’s hands? (Yes, this actually happened!)

And as for the concept of split testing, forget it!

This is just one reason why I’m glad I’m out of the corporate ratrace.

I wish Ford well, but I don’t think this slogan is going to do it for them.

I just read this tonight and I must say Mark, Great read! I laughed out load at 1 am all by myself!! What a message and lesson. Maybe you should forward it to them…can I forward it to them?? wow! Thank you for sharing.

Hi Mark,

It really is a joke when big companies like this make stupid decisions that MOST people could see right through in 1 second! Perhaps this explains why Ford cars cost as much as they do – x% is chewed up by pathetic brand advertising overheads.

I liked the point about Cameron Johnson and how they were the best dealer because they focussed on the RIGHT things – the things that make people buy!

I remember years ago hearing about an Australian car dealer (sadly, I forget their details) who were KILLING the market place by offering awesome customer service AND things like a money back guarantee on the purchase of a new car!

Now THAT shows cahones & commitment when you’re prepared to offer a client his or her bux back if they buy & don’t like it.

Suffice it to say they were absolutely kickin butt & taking names in their market place.

It’s of no big surprise to me that no other car dealer/s had the courage to copy their ideas!

Coincidently enough, I just purchased my first Ford recently (!), but since it is not a brand new model, I don’t feel too bad 🙂

Eran

Eran Malloch – No B.S. SEM Blogs last blog post..Bitch, Moan and Complain OR JUST DO IT and Succeed

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