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I opened my Wall Street Journal this morning (yes, I still do that) and there is a two-page ad spread with Bill Ford at a podium and his words on the page—“Innovation is our mission. The guiding compass of everything we do. Smarter, safer, more fuel efficient vehicles.”
OK. I like Ford. I drive the Ford Focus whenever I rent and when I need a smallish car. It’s zippy and fun to drive and handles well. I like the cross-over SUV Escape as well. I spent a month in Alaskan back-country driving around in it to do birding. These are both good products that speak well of the Ford brand. They work for Ford.
What doesn’t work for Ford are ads that sell the brand without the real product. That’s old-fashioned advertising that has less and less credibility. The current round of Ford ads—and I’ve seen Bill Ford speaking on innovation on TV as well—does the Ford brand a disservice. It’s not believable because Ford has lagged Toyota in car innovation for years and most people know it. The ad in the paper says “First SUV hybrid on the road today.”
Yep, it was the first but Ford had to license Toyota hybrid engine technology to do it. That’s not a bad thing. In fact, it makes lots of sense to got outside your company for innovation. But going to Japan for hybrid technology proves my point. Ford spent many years making fat profits off of gas-guzzling SUVs that customers loved and not enough time investing in new technologies and innovation. Now it is getting hit by high gas prices and is striving to change the narrative of its company story. But you hurt your brand by promising customers something you can’t deliver. Toyota delivers a great product that defines the brand and spreads the message. Ford is spreading a message that lacks authenticity. Not good.
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