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Behind the blue oval

Frank documentary reveals side most firms guard

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Images of abandoned factories, skeptical Wall Street analysts and the competition's best products are not usually the stuff corporate marketing campaigns are made of, but a new Ford Motor Co. online documentary series launched Tuesday features all that and more.

Over the next six months, the company will post 50 short episodes on its new Web site -- www.fordboldmoves.com -- as part of a strategy aimed at connecting with the car-buying public, convincing skeptics that its turnaround plan is gaining traction and rallying the American people behind the Blue Oval.

"It's engaging consumers in a conversation," said Mary Lou Quesnell, director of brand DNA for the company's Ford division. "We need to recognize our challenges, and we need to communicate to consumers and our own employees how we're moving forward and to tell our story."

The pilot episode cuts to the chase by taking viewers inside a management meeting called to discuss the documentary project. Mark Fields, president of Ford's Americas group and the head of the company's restructuring effort, sets the stage.

"We're at a turning point as a company," Fields says. "The one thing that we're trying to do throughout this organization is rip out the B.S., rip out the political posturing and get the issues on the table and have constructive conflict."

Frank boardroom talk like this reveals a side of the auto industry that most companies never reveal.

"It's been a shock to the system," Quesnell said. "We've taken cameras inside Ford to places where they've never been permitted."

Ford announced the documentary series May 2, when it launched the "Bold Moves" marketing campaign. It is being produced by Radical Media Inc., with final editing supervised by Ford.

The episodes are short, between three and five minutes each. Only a few have been finished, but they offer an unusually frank look at the challenges facing the automaker as it struggles with declining market share and mounting financial woes.

"Change or die, baby, that's what it's all about," Fields says in the first episode.

In one episode, a Ford dealer says, "We don't have a marketing problem, we have a product problem."

In another, a journalist says, "This is a company that really could go down."

Even Ford employees call it like they see it. "We're in trouble because we lost touch with the consumer," Robert Shank, controller of Ford's Americas unit, tells the camera.

In addition to the videos, the Web site features opinion pieces that are both critical and complimentary, links to recent news stories about Ford and space for public feedback. Ford will drive viewers to the new site with a marketing initiative focused on digital media and will gauge success by monitoring Internet traffic and tracking the online buzz created by the videos.

Quesnell said 80 percent of American car buyers use the Internet to research their vehicle purchases, so she is confident the Web-based format will appeal to a broad demographic.

"It makes sense," John Cass, an Internet marketing expert with Backbone Media Inc. "Ford can succeed, depending on how it does it."

He said Ford needs to do more than General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG.

Both of those companies have launched blogs to allow executives to communicate directly with the consumer, but Cass said those conversations often flow in one direction. Visitors to the Web site can post replies, but the automakers do not always respond. Ford is not planning on responding either.

"They need to follow up," Cass said, explaining that Internet users have come to expect that sort of interaction.

But Ford says the message is more important than the medium.

"The American people love the truth and they love an underdog," Fields says in the pilot episode. "That's us."
 
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