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Like its automotive brethren, Ford Motor Co lately has had to step on the advertising brakes. Eric Peterson, Ford Truck/SUV communications manager, tells Cathy Applefeld Olson what it’s like launching a new model, the revamped F-150, in today’s climate and how cable helps the company reach its consumers at their “passion points.”
Ford’s TV spend is down an estimated 20%-25%. Where does it make sense to buy these days?
EP: Advertising spending in general is down, yes, so we have to be smarter about where we put our money. The nice part about truck advertising is we know the passion points of our consumer. So we still do a lot of sports advertising, but just not every single bit of sports. NFL Football has been great. It’s a matter of knowing where our customer is, and buying where they’re engaged, especially with a new introduction.
How has Ford’s message changed and how are you bringing that message to television viewers?
EP: There’s been a shift in the car business in general to be focusing on the fuel economy, and with a truck, that’s an interesting thing to talk about. Maybe in the past that message was not as relevant to truck customers, but we are focusing on it now along with things that are traditionally important to truckers. It’s on everybody’s mind, and that’s a good thing for us with the F-150.
Aside from sports, what are other key niches?
EP: Sports, health and fitness, home improvement. Country music is another big thing with us. The overall brand we have with “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” is a great one.
Ford and ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” will award a “community hero” a F-150 truck and $250,000 to make over a portion of his or her town.
EP: It shows the truck being used authentically. And not only does Ford have an ad spot during the show, but it is encouraging people to use a truck to build or rebuild, and that integrates nicely with our F-150 series as the tool that’s used to help build America.
How does cable fit into the picture these days?
EP: We’ve done a lot with ESPN both on television and online. When they relaunched their web site this past January, we had an integration with them that featured Mike Rowe. It was not a page takeover per se, but Ford was clearly bringing you the new ESPN site with [footage of] a truck driving out and splashing mud on the anchor. We are trying to look for unique ways to stand out like that. Instead of focusing on being in a lot of places, we want unique alliances and partnerships—and that’s where we would look first to cable. We’ve done “Professional Bull Riders” [on Versus] or several years. It’s hugely relevant for our consumer. If you go to a monster jam event, that’s where many core truck customers are. We get involved with on-site activation, sponsorships and traditional advertising. On Speed we are involved with things like NASCAR, another huge passion point for us. Mike Rowe works with us on vehicle demonstrations and on the Web, and a lot of the advertising we’ve done with Discovery has to do with Mike Rowe since he does “Dirty Jobs.”
You mentioned the Internet tie-ins with ESPN…
EP: In particular with truck customers, there are so many details people want to find out. So we are trying to drive them to our site with rich content. We put some head-to-head comparisons online where they can compare the F-150 to any competitor under different durability tests. It’s been quite a good way to show differentiation.
Is Ford embracing any of the nascent advanced advertising opportunities such as telescoping?
EP: Potentially. There is still the need to have the reach that a regular spot ad provides, but we are making sure—especially when we have new introductions—they are able to dial down, too.