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Ford takes its story to customers

'Bold Moves' campaign includes reality TV show, online documentary as automaker goes on the offensive.

Bryce G. Hoffman / The Detroit News

DEARBORN -- Ford Motor Co. is taking its message directly to the masses with a new, multimedia marketing campaign that uses advertising, television shows and even an online documentary series to tell its story.

Ford is trying to burnish a corporate image that has been dented by financial woes, declining market share and the overall problems of the domestic auto industry.

Dubbed "Bold Moves," the new campaign was unveiled at a meeting of top Ford dealers last week. On Tuesday, the company outlined the plan for employees at Ford's world headquarters during a meeting that was part pep rally, part press conference and all about redefining the way the company manages its message.

"It's time to go on the offensive," declared Marty Collins, executive director of marketing for the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands. He said the company is not happy with the way it is portrayed in the national media and wants to speak directly with consumers. "We have to be more proactive by reporting our own stories."

In conjunction with the "Bold Moves" tagline, Ford is launching a new ad campaign starring "American Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson.

Ford also is planning its own reality show to feature aspiring vehicle designers competing to craft Detroit's next blockbuster and is planning to launch an online documentary series showing the inner workings of Ford as the company struggles to reinvent itself. The company also is redoing its Web sites and dealer brochures.

"We're starting to think like our customers and see the world through their eyes," said Cisco Codina, Ford's head of North American marketing, sales and service. He said Ford will be doing the same thing with its Lincoln and Mercury brands.

Judging by the applause that came after each new commercial and promotional video, employees liked what they heard -- particularly when it came to the new Ford anthem, "Go," by Clarkson:

Shawn Brozovich, who works in product concern resolution, said the song hit just the right note. "It's what I feel," he said.

Ford employees also viewed samples of the company's new television ad campaign, which features regular people living life to the fullest and telling viewers that there is a car company for people like that.

"It's very impressive," engineer Jim Kramer said. "It shows the rebirth of Ford."

Ford hopes to spotlight that rebirth through its new Web-based documentary series. The company has hired an independent documentary film company and given it access to all levels of the company -- from the design studio to the boardroom.

Ford plans to launch the series on a new Web site next month, posting a new two-minute episode every week or two. The site also will feature blogs by Ford insiders, a medium employed by rival automakers.

Wes Brown, a partner in the California-based consumer research firm Iceology, said it is unclear how effective such forays into the online arena have been for Detroit.

"If you don't have the product, it just doesn't matter what you do," Brown said. He said Ford has a few vehicles, like the Mustang and Fusion, that appeal to a younger demographic, but said the automaker needs to offer more.

Moreover, while he understands Ford's eagerness to reclaim the title of "America's car company," younger car buyers do not really care where their car comes from, as long as it is reliable and features compelling design and performance.

However, Brown thinks Ford's reality show is a great idea.

The working name for the show is "Made in Detroit." The current idea is to feature 15 "die-hard car nuts" competing to create the "car of the future." The contestants will work with Ford designers in two "secret design studios," and their designs will be judged by a panel of four celebrity judges.

According to Mary Lou Quesnell, Ford's director of brand DNA, the company is already talking with cable networks to secure a production agreement and time slot for the show. Ford promised to provide more details of the TV show this summer.

Brown said this is a great way to reach consumers in an era in which fewer and fewer people watch commercials.

"If they execute it properly -- and that's a big if -- it could be tremendously effective," he said.

Collins said Ford is "greatly increasing" its advertising spending to pay for these new marketing efforts, but he would not say by how much. Ford and its dealers spend more than $1 billion on marketing.

Quesnell said she and her team have been working on the new campaign for 60 days. They created a "Bold-O-Meter" and rated each idea on a scale of zero to 10. "We need to be making bold moves in everything we do."
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