Ford Motor Co. this year will spend 25% of its marketing dollars on digital media, more than twice the amount spent by the industry.
According to J.D. Power, about 9% of spending this year by automakers will be digital, but that will rise to about 12% by 2012 as more companies embrace social networking, online gaming and rich media ads in place of traditional TV and print.
Speaking at J.D. Power’s Internet Marketing Roundtable in Las Vegas today, Ford’s chief marketing executive James Farley says the company has made a bigger digital and social media bet than rivals because, “If you are trying to communicate, as we are, that you have been reinventing the company , you can’t just say it. You have to get the people to say it to each other.”
Perhaps Ford’s biggest single bet on digital and social media has been the Fiesta Movement, a program that began in 2008, 18 months before the cars will actually arrive in dealerships. Ford gave 100 European Fiestas to people to drive and live with. The results of the blogging, Facebooking, Youtubing and Tweeting by those people, plus the echoing of those messages by the blogosphere, followers, etc. has been an eye opener.
Consider this: The awareness level of Fiesta, a car that is not even in the U.S. yet (though it has been a fixture in Europe for years), is 37% among Generation Y, according to Ford-commissioned surveys. That is about equal to the awareness level of Fusion and Flex, models that have received, especially in the case of Fusion, hundreds of millions of dollars in traditional media spend. “The Fiesta movement has changed the way the whole company views media planning and buying,” Farley said at the conference.
Here is one of the videos submitted to Ford by someone wanting to be one of the 100 Fiesta drivers:
If that isn’t an indictment of the impact of traditional media, and the power of viral and social media, I’m not sure what is.
Ford isn’t saying what it’s cost on the program is. But it says that just the Fiesta Movement has created 11 million social networking impressions; five million engagements on social networks (people sharing and receiving); 11,000 videos have been posted; 15,000 Tweets (not including re-tweets), 13,000 photos. And the cars have been driven over one million real-world miles by the 100 participants.
The Fiesta Movement will end in November, after which Ford will start to ramp up a pre-launch and then launch media campaign, which will include actual TV, print, outdoor, etc.
The driver of the strategy, as well as other Ford digital efforts is Scott Monty, who arrived at Ford in mid 2008 after working in a digital marketing boutique in Cambridge, Mass.
At the J.D. Power conference, a lot of people are asking about the return-on-investment of social media spending. Monty says each company has to define success for itself. “We have put together metrics with partners that track our brand: how many mentions, how many are positive sentiment, our reputation, etc.” But, he is quick to add,” You can’t be too obsessed with measuring to prove the investment is worth it, at least right now.”
As long as Ford’s key measurements of progress on its image and purchase consideration keep rising, says Monty, Ford makes certain assumptions that the investment in digital, and specifically social media is a key driver. “Our news this year in terms of not taking a government bailout, the rise in share price and our product validations from J.D. Power, Consumer Reports are all driving the measures, but its digital communications that is amplifying the news and echoing it among consumers.,” says Monty. “It’s difficult for ads to do justice to the opportunity we have right now.”
Besides the awareness levels of Fiesta, though, Monty says Ford has built a list of more than 50,000 “hand-raisers” who say they definitely want to stay on top of the launch of Fiesta and want more information because they are inclined to buy one based on what they have seen and read. Ninety-seven percent of those people, says Monty, are non-Ford owners.
“Those are the kinds of numbers that show us that we are on the right track with what we are doing.”
While Monty and other members of Ford’s marketing/public relations department Facebook and Tweet, the company, unlike GM and Chrysler, have no blog. “The whole point is to get other people talking,” says Farley. The company proliferates video content on the Internet at sites such as Fordstory.com and Youtube.com making those images and “brand assets” available for easy sharing.
Take this video, part of Ford's online video storytelling:
Gary Dilts, senior vice president of J.D. Power’s global automotive practice, who is former sales chief at Chrysler, says he would have thought any company “crazy for starting such a marketing program 18 months ahead of showroom launch.” But, Dilts added, “I think the Fiesta campaign, and the other digital video Ford is running is already a case study for any marketer in or out of the auto industry.”
One of the areas of social media Monty has grappled with is when to enter a debate going on in the blogosphere. On website Jalopnik.com, for example, Ford has taken hits over issues such as the costs to fly one of its executives back and forth between a Florida home, and Monty’s own Tweeting practices. Monty says he believes it is good policy to engage with consumers and bloggers in the social media spaces, but not all the time. “If we feel we are being baited or it’s someone just looking for a smack-down, I don’t believe it’s useful to engage,” he says.
Up to now, Monty’s responsibility as Ford’s social media chief has been concentrated on North America. But he is gearing up to take his job globally, coordinating social media practices among Ford’s global operating units, all of which, under CEO Alan Mulally and Farley, are much more answerable to Michigan headquarters than in the past.
“The Ford brand is being managed globally for the first time, and social media is going to be a big part of that,” says Monty.