Will Ford's Milk Shake Bring Anybody to the Yard?

Posted by: Matthew Vella on December 21, 2006

Bossy2.JPG

As part of Ford’s reportedly $80 million marketing push for the new Edge crossover, the company has inked a deal with hip hop singer Kelis to star in the “urban marketing campaign” portion of the plan – Ford’s terminology, not mine. Spots will feature a jingle by Kelis titled Push it to the Edge and run on television, Steve Harvey’s radio show, and websites like AOL Black Voices.

At first glance, the Grammy nominated singer — who’s hits “Milk Shake, “Bossy,” and “Blindfold Me” you might have missed — seems an odd fit for Ford. Notoriously prudish, the company once recalled an entire run of luxury brand catalogs because some examples contained promo Aston-Martin hand-cuffs deemed too risqué by management.

Previous artists who’ve pitched for Ford, like Toby Keith and Kelly Clarkson, have been wholesome and squeaky-clean. Kelis’ videos, meanwhile, are gritty, over-the-top, and, you guessed it, hyper-sexual. (Watch them: Milk Shake, Bossy, Blindfold Me.) I can’t help but wonder what a Bill O’Reilly would do with these in hand. Then there’s the American Family Association

But seriously, Kelis is a surprisingly pertinent choice. Steve Stoute, the Chief Creative Officer of Translation, a firm that matches big brands with hip hop stars, says the fit seems natural given Kelis’ “crossover” appeal. “The key in these types of deals is transmitting proximity and authenticity,” says Stoute, who’s put deals together between HP and Gwen Stefani, Jay-Z and Reebok, McD’s and Justin Timberlake.

So, the real question is can the Edge lead a double life, appealing to the boomers and empty-nesters bailing out of Ford’s mid-size SUVs and, at the same time, come off as cool to the urban young? It’s possible.

Miles Kovacs, the President and Co-Founder of DUB Magazine, points out that Chrysler’s 300C – which was concomitantly patronized by Snoop Dogg and the most uptight Desperate Housewife — had no trouble occupying multiple cultural spaces at the same time.

Problem is, the Edge isn’t as strong-looking a vehicle at the 300 and I’m not sure how it’ll connect with the audience or the advertising — even if Kelis is uber-relevant. Ford won’t have any problem selling the Edge to its current customer base. But, to make the most of the model it desperately needs to push into new customers.

Reader Comments

Thomas S. Stein

December 23, 2006 9:27 AM

In my opinion, Ford is not going to save itself until it changes the entire manufacturing culture of its industry and reduces prices in excess of 50%. As an MBA student with a 3.83 average, I cannot see FORD surviving without creating the opposite of the original FORD ROUGE.
In my opinion, FORD needs to become a pure design studio, outsourcing all parts manufacturing, assembly and delivery apparatus. There are just too many baggage trains, of every and all natures to continue in any fashion, as before. The world is poised to move automotive manufacturing into a more commodity friendly foremat. If Ford and Ford brands are to survive through this economic gauntlet, how pray tell are they to thrive with any kind of structure, even remotely resembling the organizational gluttony which served few if any for 100 years. Of course, I am but an MBA student finishing my studies. Thus, my opinions, no matter how economically sound, must realise the entrenched power of the status quo. Unfortunately, my opinion says that a FORD with an old Rouge body and new plastic wings, will not fly.

Thomas S. Stein

December 23, 2006 9:28 AM

In my opinion, Ford is not going to save itself until it changes the entire manufacturing culture of its industry and reduces prices in excess of 50%. As an MBA student with a 3.83 average, I cannot see FORD surviving without creating the opposite of the original FORD ROUGE.
In my opinion, FORD needs to become a pure design studio, outsourcing all parts manufacturing, assembly and delivery apparatus. There are just too many baggage trains, of every and all natures to continue in any fashion, as before. The world is poised to move automotive manufacturing into a more commodity friendly foremat. If Ford and Ford brands are to survive through this economic gauntlet, how pray tell are they to thrive with any kind of structure, even remotely resembling the organizational gluttony which served few if any for 100 years. Of course, I am but an MBA student finishing my studies. Thus, my opinions, no matter how economically sound, must realise the entrenched power of the status quo. Unfortunately, my opinion says that a FORD with an old Rouge body and new plastic wings, will not fly.

TheSenator

December 24, 2006 11:41 AM

"Transmitting proximity and authenticity." ??? Doesn't ANYONE have the presence of mind to question this sort of claptrap? You have to hand it to Stoute, though. He learned his lessons from Peter Arnell very well.

Nikolay

December 27, 2006 10:44 AM

It will take more than aggressive advertising to make consumers buy Fords. Advertising is important and getting a mindshare in today's overcrowded auto market is not easy, but I would suggest that even if the advertising succeeds in getting a consumer to buy a Ford, the disppointment of getting a bad quality vehicle (if quality is not fixed) and/or an inadequate performance auto (if the overall vehicle design is not fixed) is counter productive.

Every so often I test drive Fords via a choice of a vehicle when I rent one on trips. I am yet to find a car that can match what I drive today (I do not want to state brands as this is not an advertisement for the cars I own currently). So, this significant expenditure (for the ad Ford is putting forward now) will be lost on me (and probably many other consumers).

M.T. Paige

December 27, 2006 2:39 PM

Curse Ford and Yahoo! I just went to yahoo.com and what do you know, there is a little Ford add that jumped around the screen as I tried to look at something else! Seriously? Has nobody learned that these types of ads only upset consumers? Ford's list of things to do while teetering on the brink of finanical disaster must be to:
1. Alienate potential consumers with annoying internet ads.
2. Continue building mediocre cars and SUV's
3. Try to make Ford seem cool by using artist like Kelis to push their products...yeah that will work...

Brendan Moore

December 31, 2006 10:51 PM

Sure, the right marketing is essential and you can't blame Ford for trying out some youth marketing, but the problems at Ford are not going to be assuaged by marketing, no matter how good the marketing is - the problems are deeper and the solutions are further away than next month's marketing campaign.

If you haven’t been following this story in the newspaper, on television, or on the internet, Ford Motor Co. is in tremendous trouble. They are failing miserably from a financial perspective, they are losing sales volume and market share, they are hemorrhaging workers, shutting down plants, their senior managers are jumping ship, they have a new CEO from outside the auto industry that is supposed to get them out of this free-fall, and worst of all, there is nothing in the product pipeline for the next couple of years that looks like the blockbuster sales hit they so desperately need.

How bad is it? Just looking at the financial aspect of the current situation yields the following: Ford’s market share in the U.S. market is now at 16%, down from 25% in 1995. Toyota will undoubtedly pass them as the No. 2 auto company in sales in the U.S. in 2007. Ford lost $9 billion USD in the first three quarters of 2006. The company estimates that their losses in 2007 will exceed the up-to $10.5 billion they forecast losing in 2006 and that their market share will drop to 14.7%. Company officials estimate that they will burn through $17 billion in cash the next three years trying to get the company back on track. To sustain that effort, Ford has borrowed $18 billion USD through a financing package that was made possible by putting up the whole company (even including rights to the Blue Oval brand) up as collateral. Ford is literally and figuratively betting the farm on their turnaround, which they predict will happen in 2009, the year they anticipate being out of the red. If they fail, they will have nothing left of any value to call their own.

Of course, the staggeringly dire financial condition of Ford begs the question of whether their leadership is up to the task of executing a massive turnaround successfully. From what I can see, Alan Mulally, the new CEO, recently of Boeing, is a good pick to lead the company during this difficult time. I think he is damn good at fixing a manufacturing company, he is tough without being mean and that he will expend every effort to make good things happen at Ford. I like Ford’s chances with him at the helm. As you get down to the next level of senior management there at Ford, though, there are some possible question marks, starting with Mark Fields, Head of North America for Ford. I want to be proven wrong, but he seems like a guy who knows the right things to say about what should happen, and makes those utterances with a great deal of confidence, but is not skilled enough to actually make those things happen. And as to why I’m singling him out when there are others that are suspect - if Ford North America doesn’t get fixed, then nothing else matters. Too early to tell at this point whether my uneasiness with him is justified, but if my intuition is wrong, I’m prepared to issue a public mea culpa when he does something wonderful for Ford. The mid-level managers seem like a pretty strong group in the aggregate, allowing for the usual exceptions, and Ford would do well to give the ones who can stick around a voice in turning things around, since they’re a lot closer to the front line than the senior managers. And finally, the actual production workers – this much-maligned group has always deserved better leadership than what they’ve had, and if they get it, I think they’ll surprise a lot of people with their productivity and quality results.

So, if we assume that they have the money and the horses in management to turn things around, and they’ll make the hard choices in terms of cutting brands, cutting costs and personnel, then we arrive at product. This is where things get really tough in terms of the turnaround scenario. Jaguar, Aston Martin, and Land Rover are very likely to be sold off in 2007. Volvo is on the bubble, but even if it manages to weather the brand-cutting storm, it doesn’t have enough volume to pull Ford out of the abyss. Everything that’s going to be sitting on the blacktop for sale at Ford-Mercury-Lincoln dealerships across the United States in the next two years was already set for production before their new CEO arrived; and what they have for sale now runs the gamut between not-so-good and good, with nothing except the F-150 pickup and the Mustang coupe considered top dogs in their respective segments. Ford’s full-size SUVs and their Lincoln-Mercury clones are among the leaders in their segments, but those segments are getting smaller by the day. The new Ford Edge is a good vehicle, and the new Ford Fusion/Mercury Milan is a very good vehicle, but it doesn’t seem likely that either one is going to dominate the sandbox they play in out in the marketplace. Ford did some preview shows last week for the automotive press in which they showed some future production cars, some concepts, and some concept drawings, but by all accounts, there was no show-stopper in the group of future production cars, and the concepts are, well, concepts. It’s going to be awhile before anything that is now a concept can make it to market as a production vehicle. And frankly, there is no guarantee in the car business that a great concept vehicle can be transformed into a great production vehicle. Things that make the concept vehicle so endearing and attractive on the display stand frequently get lost along the way as the car moves to the reality of the production line. Add in the fact that a stagnant auto market is forecast for next year, and that means that a shell-shocked Ford has to take market share away from some very strong competitors in a flat market and has to do it with decidedly average product. That’s a pretty tough hill to climb.

So, what can Ford do for the next 24 months in terms of product? Not very much, the answer turns out to be, but here are some humble suggestions.

****Shamelessly raid whatever you can from the expensive brands that are leaving (engines, platforms, etc.) and work it into Ford vehicles wherever possible. High-end components in a mass-market brand can do wonders for sales. Look at the current Chrysler 300C with the last-generation Mercedes-Benz hardware underneath.

****Take a hard look at the Ford of Europe and Ford Australia lineups and see if there’s anything there that Americans might want to buy. The Ford Focus C-Max was just named Europe’s Car of the Year, the Ford Focus ST is a wonderful little rocket, and those cars might just sell in the United States as the price of gasoline keeps going up. The Australian Ford Falcon is a good rear-wheel drive platform that could be used as a potential performance car platform here in the States.

****Address, when feasible, the known shortcomings of the vehicles that aren’t selling currently, i.e., the horsepower deficit of the Ford 500. Put an engine in it with more horsepower, regardless of whether you get the horsepower through larger displacement or boost. Offer a flagship version with even more horsepower and AWD to get all that power to the pavement. You won’t have a BMW-eater, but you sure as hell ought to be able to embarrass a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord.

****You have some wonderful designers and engineers working for you. Take whatever concept car that people exclaim over and make it show up in undiluted form in a showroom as soon as possible. If you have to water it down in looks and/or performance, then don’t do it. Go on to the next one. You don’t need any more mediocre iron in your lineup.

Those are my general product suggestions for the short-term. Long-term, it gets more complicated, but the next 24 months is what Ford needs to get though first.

Can Ford turn around their business before the borrowed money runs out? It’s going to be tough. Very tough. In the car business, having great product solves a lot of problems and having lousy product makes all of your problems ever so much more formidable. I think Ford can actually turn it around, but almost everything they do (stopgap measures, big ideas, etc.) in the next 2-3 years is going have to work, and even if that’s the case, they’ll still need to be a little lucky here and there. I want them to succeed but I am a realist, and the truth of the matter is that Mr. Mulally and colleagues have a lot of hard work and a lot of sleepless nights ahead of them.

CarFanatic

February 22, 2007 11:23 AM

It's always funny when America's automakers try to use the label of 'urban' and then incorporate hip-hop tunes and artists into their commercials thinking it's miraculously going to make consumers overlook the lack of creativity in their products.

The Ford Edge has NO appeal; it's like tofu to a carnivore. Kelis sitting on top of one WILL NOT sell additional Ford Edges. Instead of blowing $80 million on advertising Ford really needs to get rid of the folks with the big offices with decision making power--who are making TERRIBLE decisions; the real reason the company is falling apart. Ford is definitely on the Edge, and that copper colored thing in the ads needs to just go ahead and jump. What the hell is so inspiring about having a vehicle driving on the edge of a rail? what does that tell you about the products? For one, it says somebody in marketing should be fired.

The problem is, desperation zaps budget. The problem in Detroit is that the decision makers at the top are too short sighted and ignorant to let go off their old perceptions of what American consumers want. Here's an idea, for one model run, how about importing all those Ford products sold in other markets like Europe; that's it, the ones that car magazines drool about. Like the European Focus. (tap-tap= is this thing on?)

Or, like I mentioned above, bring to market the products people drool over at the auto shows, not some watered down, no personality having buzz box you plop a hip-hop star on top of and think it's going to be "the way forward"....

Roland C.

February 27, 2007 3:06 PM

OK, we all know that Ford, GM, and Chyrsler are in trouble. But who is to blame for lack luster sales and vehicles? No one but the top management teams who have continuously tried to run the whole show. If the "Big 3" want to survive, they should do three(3) things:

1) Listen to the consumer who buys the auto and the critics who rate the cars. Read all the reports.

2). If it isn't right or doesn't work, fix the problem. Don't just rebadge it and offer it as next year's model. Look at the Camry and the Accord. They continually improved the models by fixing problems.

3). Let the employees that build and design the cars have a say. Listen to their ideas, suggestions, and complaints. End the bureaucratic hierarchy.

If the "BIG 3" are going to survive, they better change their ways fast. Americans and everyone else in the global marketplace know that they can build a better or the best cars. They don't need Congessional help or anybody else's help. They can do it if they really want to.

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