Mustang ads blend nostalgia, newness; dealers claim buyers are being lured to showrooms
JAMIE LAREAU | Automotive News
A TV spot for the 2005 Ford Mustang that uses the image of movie star Steve McQueen is luring buyers to showrooms, dealers say.
Two new commercials for Ford Division's 2005 Mustang aim to achieve seemingly contradictory goals.
They seek to corner the market on nostalgia by invoking 1960s icons Steve McQueen and Jimi Hendrix. At the same time, the commercials are designed to appeal to young buyers by touting the new features of a car that debuted 40 years ago.
Some reviewers call the commercials brilliant. Others insist they miss the mark. But Ford Motor Co. and its dealers say they are driving showroom traffic.
Ford Division is counting on the Mustang to help boost its U.S. retail sales by as much as 15 percent within two years.
One of the commercials, called "Cornfield," plays off the 1989 movie Field of Dreams. A farmer builds a racetrack in his field. As he drives his Mustang from a barn to the track, a figure emerges from the cornstalks and walks toward him. It's a turtleneck-clad McQueen.
The farmer hands the keys to McQueen, who gets in and takes off. That scene flashes back to another movie: 1968's Bullitt. The film's climax featured McQueen racing a Mustang through San Francisco in what many critics still call the most exciting movie car chase ever.
The other commercial, called "Anthem," shows a Mustang in front of a billboard that displays images of the car throughout its history. The car's engine revs up to play "The Star Spangled Banner." It's a subtle homage to Hendrix's performance of the national anthem at Woodstock in 1969.
The "Cornfield" commercial is so popular that Ford added it to its Web site, says Martin Collins, general marketing manager of Ford Division.
Raves and pans
Says Charlie Hughes, managing partner of the consulting firm Brand Rules in Newport Beach, Calif.: "The commercial is brilliant. It's the best thing they've done."
Hughes is a former CEO of Mazda North American Operations. He left the company last year over disagreements with Ford and Mazda executives about the brand's direction. Hughes says Ford's advertising historically has been boring and sometimes bad, but that isn't the case with the Mustang commercial.
"The ad brings back very warm feelings (for the Mustang), and it feels fresher than it really is," Hughes says. "That commercial brings together all the elements needed to get noticed."
Jim Sanfilippo, executive vice president of the auto consulting firm AMCI Inc. in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., says the commercial's use of McQueen's image is deft.
"McQueen was a car enthusiast and a macho guy," Sanfilippo says. "Having him in (the ad) was a good touch."
A dissenting view comes from Bob Garfield, an editor at large of Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News. In a review of the "Cornfield" commercial, Garfield said it amounts to "two old movies, one dead actor, one recycled idea."
Dealers' thumbs up
But Ford dealers say customers mention the commercial when they visit showrooms looking for Mustangs.
Kevin Collins, president of Collins Auto Group and Bill Collins Ford in Louisville, Ky., says he sells a 2005 Mustang almost as soon as it arrives at his dealership, which started stocking them in mid-October. Since then the store has sold more than 20 units, he says.
A Ford dealer in central California who asked not to be identified says he's selling each Mustang he gets for $4,000 to $5,000 over the list price of $19,410, which includes destination.
Kevin Collins concedes that older consumers are more likely to understand and appreciate the McQueen commercial than buyers in their 20s.
"Young people like the spots, but they need to be filled in on the Steve McQueen reference," he says. "Once they are, they think it's nifty. The real connotation is Field of Dreams, and everyone gets that."
Even viewers unfamiliar with McQueen find the commercial powerful, Ford's Martin Collins adds. "You have two legendary figures coming together," he says, referring to McQueen and the Mustang. "You don't need to say much in that ad.
"While there will be, with any ad, a certain group of people who don't get it or connect with it, we're very pleased with it."