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US:Ford: Now it's easy being green,Pricey TV ad shows off hybrid SUV

Ford: Now it's easy being green

Pricey TV ad shows off hybrid SUV

Bryce G. Hoffman | The Detroit News /
The Kermit ad is the first Escape Hybrid TV spot since its launch.

Ford is tapping Kermit to star as its new pitch-amphibian. "He's obviously accustomed to being green," Ford's Martin Collins says.

It's not easy bein' green," sang Kermit the Frog. "It seems you blend in with so many other ordinary things."

Apparently, that is the issue Ford Motor Co. is having with its Escape Hybrid. While the automaker sells every one of the gas-electric powered sport utility vehicles it produces, few Americans seem to remember that it was the first manufacturer to bring a hybrid SUV to market and is still the only domestic carmaker with a hybrid in its retail lineup.

So, Ford is tapping Kermit to star as its new celebrity pitch-amphibian in a 30-second advertisement that will debut during Sunday's Super Bowl broadcast -- the first Escape Hybrid television spot since the vehicle was launched in 2004.

Martin Collins, executive director of marketing for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands, said the new ad is as much about selling Ford as it is about selling its Escape Hybrid SUVs.

"It's about beginning to change some of the impressions people have about Ford," Collins said, noting that many consumers mistakenly perceive hybrids as the exclusive domain of Japanese automakers. "We feel it's time to stake out our territory."

It is a card Ford has been reluctant to play -- not because it is not proud of the highly-rated Escape Hybrid, but because the company has tended to focus its advertising dollars on vehicles that need a little marketing muscle behind them to increase sales.

That certainly has not been the case with the Escape Hybrid, which has customers waiting in line in many locations. Last year, Ford built and sold some 20,000 Escape Hybrids, and dealers say they could have easily sold more if they had the inventory.

"Our inventory is actually less than one per dealer," Ford spokesman Jim Cain said.

Andrew Gershoff, associate professor of marketing at the University of Michigan, said it makes sense for Ford to highlight its accomplishments as it tries to project a more innovative and environmentally friendly image for the company.

"They're trying to change people's attitudes -- probably towards the entire Ford brand," Gershoff said, adding that promoting Ford's green credentials can help sell its non-hybrid vehicles, as well. "People have associations with the brand as doing the right thing."

Moreover, Gershoff said automobiles are one product that can benefit from less targeted advertising.

"People don't necessarily see an advertisement for an automobile and go out and buy an automobile," he said.

But Collins said Ford is hardly being a tease. There are about 3,000 Escape Hybrids in dealer stock nationwide, many in areas of the country where there is less awareness of Ford's hybrid, and he hopes Sunday's ad will convince consumers in those parts of the country to visit their local Ford dealership.

In the past, Ford has used its prime Super Bowl ad time to showcase more mainstream vehicles like the Mustang and F-150 pickup. Collins said the decision to put the spotlight on the Escape Hybrid this year is also a reflection of how mainstream hybrids have become.

By 2010, Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr. said the company would be able to produce 250,000 hybrids annually and make half its models available as hybrids.

Ford took a step closer to fulfilling that promise last week, when it announced that it will produce hybrid versions of the Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego sedans, and Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX crossovers.

It also has plans to offer a hybrid Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan.

The Super Bowl ad, which will cost Ford $2.5 million, will inaugurate a series of similarly themed television, print and billboard ads, all designed to promote Ford's green image. Collins said Kermit is the perfect icon for delivering that message.

"He's obviously accustomed to being green."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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