LAS VEGAS – Ford is betting millions of dollars on a major ad campaign that’s designed by the creative team behind “Just Do It” for Nike, “Imported from Detroit” for Chrysler and “LiveStrong” for the Lance Armstrong foundation.
On Saturday, “Built Ford Proud” TV spots will debut during the Michigan-Michigan State football game. They will carry the voice and face of Emmy-winning actor Bryan Cranston.
The ads will feature key vehicles including the Explorer SUV, F-150 full-size pickup and Mustang.
Ads will also run on radio, in print and throughout social media channels.
“The company’s got its swagger back,” said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president of global marketing, sales and service.
Ford screened the new ads this week for about 1,800 dealers gathered in Las Vegas for the company's annual dealer show. It is the biggest executive team meeting at the event since 2008 – just before the Great Recession that led to a massive auto industry slump.
“Dealers love the new ad campaign,” Farley said. “They say it’s about time we go on our front foot and tell our story.”
Wieden + Kennedy, a boutique advertising firm based in Portland, Oregon, is behind this new effort, said Joy Falotico, group vice president, Lincoln Motor Co. and chief marketing officer.
The ads make the point that Ford is a family name, not the result of a merger; that much can be learned in 2020 from 1920; and that with experience comes trust.
“Let the other guys keep dreaming about the future, we’ll be the ones building it,” one TV spot says.
The print ads say: Born in Detroit. Made in America. Famous worldwide.
The “Built Ford Proud” theme is “one umbrella that brings together” all the products, while “Built Ford Tough” applies to just trucks, explained Matt Van Dyke, Ford's director of marketing communications.
Wieden + Kennedy, which is admired globally for its award-winning work, recently created the controversial "Dream Crazy" Nike spot with Colin Kaepernick.
For Ford, the new ad campaign is about harnessing consumer trust at a time when people are seeking authenticity.
“These ads really speak to the whole auto industry,” Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, said after previewing the TV ads. “We’ve gotten way ahead of ourselves with autonomous vehicles. It’s not going to happen overnight. Companies like Ford have to sell a lot of F-150s to finance the future they’re dreaming of.”
In addition, analysts said the tone of the ads promises to lift up downtrodden employees and dealers who have watched stock prices sink, investment ratings slashed to near junk and recent announcements of a global workforce reduction.
Ford executives cite surveys that reinforce the idea that the iconic automaker is one of the most trusted companies in America. At issue, though, is whether that trust is eroding. Ford is ramping up its resources to hold onto its customers and harness their loyalty. Wooing new customers is always more costly than keeping the ones you have.
Advertising analysts say Ford is moving in the right direction.
A handful of seasoned ad professionals who also teach offered perspective on the shift to “Built Ford Proud”, the new ad agency and the use of Cranston, whose voice has been part of Ford ads over the past two years.
“Bryan Cranston makes sense for this sort of move," said Marcus Collins, a Ross School of Business lecturer at the University of Michigan. "He sort of personifies the notion of no nonsense, earnest craft, which I can imagine Ford is trying to shift toward. It’s not unlike Clint Eastwood – pre-crazy Clint – lending his voice and likeness to Chrysler for the Super Bowl."
Bob Kolt, a professor of advertising and public relations at Michigan State University, said the popular "Built Ford Tough" slogan is always debatable, but pride is personal and emotional.
"Ford wants more than a sale – they want an engaging relationship with generations of customers. This looks more like a solid image investment for Ford rather than just buying a few ads or selling a few trucks," he said.
Mike Bernacchi, a University of Detroit Mercy professor who tracks advertising trends, said, “Ford is transitioning to a different branding message. ‘Tough’ is definitive and specific with just a few qualities. ‘Proud’ can be attached to nearly anything. The new brand message is stronger and more extensive."
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