Ford Death Watch 16: Bold Snooze

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
ford death watch 16 bold snooze

Last Friday, JWT invited me to the Big Apple to discuss their Bold Moves internet documentary series. The ad agency wanted to interview "one of Ford’s fiercest critics" about their client’s decision to “pull back the curtain” on their turnaround efforts. Although JWT was only paying my expenses, I was inspired to make the journey by Mark Fields’ parting words in the opening episode: “the American people love the truth.” This is perfectly true and completely beside the point. The question is, does Ford love the truth?

I knew the answer to that question even before I boarded the Acela Express. Back in June, the automaker commissioned me to write about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of the Bold Moves campaign. My no-holds-barred rant wasn’t a hit. I rewrote a few bits at their behest, but dug in my heels on the article’s main thrust: Ford’s campaign sucked because their products aren’t bold. Nor should they be. “The average Ford buyer hankers after a bold vehicle about as much as they crave purple hair extensions.” The piece never appeared.

As I walked through JWT’s white offices– lifted directly from the set of Woody Allen’s Sleeper– I surmised that my hosts had asked me down as part of a carefully coordinated effort to show how “real” they were, because, of course, “real” is all the rage these days. Yes but… the interview came with damage control as standard. JWT was free to use whatever digitized bits best suited its corporate purposes or, again, ditch the whole deal.

As soon as our chat commenced, I discovered that “transparency” was the name of JWT’s game. My bright eyed and tie-less adtagonist wanted to know if I– or anyone else– gave Ford props for letting JWT’s camera crew record, edit and post a “warts and all” look behind the scenes of the automaker’s recent struggles. The ad guy didn’t seem to care when I said nobody other than industry wonks and advertising execs was interested Ford’s bold new blog. He remained unperturbed when I declared that JWT's films had about as much edge as a beach ball, Ford employees were more concerned about losing their jobs than faux cinema verite and that The Blue Oval is doomed. Like I said: editing.

Later, as I watched the sun set over Connecticut, I concluded that Ford and JWT just don’t get it. Using the internet as an alternative channel for corporate PR– no matter how “hard hitting”– isn’t a bold move. It’s the same old you-know-what in a different wrapper. In our Brave New e-World, interactvity is all. The only two-way section of the Bold Moves site– “Ford responds”– is a limp joke. An anonymous Ford rep– no name, title or email– answers a selected question. Surfers post their reactions. Then… nothing. It's a total disconnect between consumer passion and Ford reaction, a sop to electronic intercourse that highlights the automaker's ignorance, arrogance and intransigence.

But it wasn’t until today that I realized how badly JWT and their Dearborn paymasters are fooling themselves. In Car and Driver’s letters section, Bud Green from Garland, Texas took C&D to task for describing a 4.9-liter Mustang when no such vehicle existed. “Hey, Bud,” the Ed responded. “you might want to review the trunkload of stories we’ve written about the “5.0” Mustang over its long run. The engine had a displacement of 4942cc.” The editor’s time shifted, mean-spirited, self-congratulatory response perfectly illustrates the old media’s gestalt, and the ethos of the automakers that help subsidize their efforts.

Car mags and carmakers simply don’t (or won’t) realize that the paradigm has shifted. The days when the high priests of automotive manufacturing and their journalistic acolytes could make products and pronouncements without concerning themselves with the opinions of people outside the industry (save an occasional interest in which vehicles or magazines consumers buy) are gone. The new model is an wired organization sans frontieres: a commercial enterprise with an instant, endless feedback loop between company and consumer that ultimately obliterates the difference between the two. Carmakers willing to make this leap– to surrender intellectual power to their customers– will thrive.

The Bold Moves website demonstrates Ford's unwillingness to embrace the new template. It's nothing more than traditional top down corporate culture transposed into a new medium. If the guardians of "Crazy Henry's" legacy really wanted to be bold, they'd create a multiplicity of websites covering every aspect of their business: design, marketing, engineering, distribution, sales, etc. They'd configure these sub-sites to allow a frank, open and meaningful conversation with the outside world, including suppliers, dealers, mechanics, owners and potential consumers. Anything less is an enormous waste of time, money and credibility.

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  • John Williams John Williams on Nov 07, 2006
    Glenn A: Nope, volume won’t be as high, prices will be higher - but in the LONG RUN it will pay off (if in doubt, take a look at Lexus). Try explaining to fellow execs and stockholders how your long-term plan will take a long time (about 5 - 10 years) for any tangible results to materialize. Count the number of days before you are told, in no uncertain terms, that although your time at the company was valuable, it's time for the company to move on. Without you. The Big 3 eschew long-term thinking for short-term plans that they think are guaranteed to net them big profits right now. Which explains why companies like Honda and Toyota continuously out-pace them by following long-term goals that insure the company's longevity and overall well-being. Until the MBAs and legacy-builders are pushed out of their comfy chairs in Dearborn, Auburn Hills and the RenCen, not much in the way of progress will be done. In fact, the execs and MBAs will just look forward to the day that their companies go bankrupt as the day that they can finally jet off with their golden care baskets.
  • Vineeth Vineeth on Nov 08, 2006

    I can't believe that a company that posted a loss of nearly 6 billion dollars actually spent money to be insulted. Couldn't they just call up Farago instead? Nonetheless, I really want to see the video if only to see the kind of spin they'll put on it. The last episode had some laid off employees practically thanking Ford for firing them. They are now free to pursue their life long ambitions - although admittedly they did get a sweet severance package.

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