By on June 25, 2009

By all accounts, the refreshed Ford Taurus is an excellent car. Easy-to-drive, economical, well-built, comfortable, capacious and handsome. As a sign of its pre-launch success, the vehicle’s critics are focusing on its sticker price. As a firm believer that something is worth exactly what someone will pay for it, it remains to be seen if Ford’s priced the refreshed Taurus out of the market. Meanwhile and in any case, Taurus Gen 6 won’t “save” Ford like the 1986 model. The 2010 Taurus may be a singular automobile, but it is not a signature automobile. To survive in today’s crowded, shrunken, hyper-competitive new car market, Ford needs vehicles that clearly differentiate the brand from the competition; and marketing to match. Ford recognizes the problem but fails to rectify it.

“Drive the Ford Difference.” Well, exactly. But what is the Ford difference? Even as The Blue Oval Boyz spend millions promoting their latest brand slogan, they continue to struggle with its meaning. The tag line’s tortuous evolution indicates their inveterate indecision. Lest we forget, “Drive the Ford Difference” has just replaced “Drive One,” which replaced a farrago of consumer exhortations: “Drive Quality,” “Drive Safe,” “Drive Green,” “Drive Smart.” Ford’s gone from pick a slogan, to an anti-slogan, to guess the slogan. The Glass House Gang is in real danger of descending into inscrutable, Coke-like zen koans (i.e., Ford is).

This is Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s Achilles heel, and you can see the protruding arrow. In terms of manufacturing process, Big Al has cleaned house: eliminating much of the corporate behemoth’s sloth, waste, fraud, duplication, bureaucracy, indecision, intransigence, etc. The $25 million man (first year) has also been lucky enough to prove that it’s better to be lucky than smart. The company’s rep is riding high on its decision to shun the federal bailout buffet—ignoring the fact that it only did so to protect to Ford family control and recently tapped a $5.9 billion, no-interest, taxpayer-provided “retooling loan.” More to the point, Big Al has done nothing to save the Ford brand.

Automotive branding—deciding what vehicles to build, how to build them and how to sell them—requires what George Bush famously called “the vision thing.” Mulally’s administration suffers from a failure to synthesize. In other words, truck buyers know the F-150 is built Ford tough (complete with its own logo). But how do you link that selling point with the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid’s claim that it’s “the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan in America®”?

Or the Mustang head vs. heart, heart wins campaign? And how does that jive with the Dirty Jobs guy’s claim that the Fusion beats the Toyota Camry and Honda Accord for quality? Meanwhile, the poor (but excellent) Ford Explorer is reduced to promoting roll-over protection while the Edge urges you to “drive past gas stations faster.”

Note: it doesn’t matter if any of these selling points are true. They’re just too damn many of them. The Ford brand stands for everything and nothing at the same time.

No surprise there. Big Al inherited a failing automaker rife with warring fiefdoms: corporate enclaves defined by country, brand, product, specialty and, of course, personal loyalty. Ford’s undeniable product excellence is not the result of a overarching corporate effort in any one direction; it’s the offshoot of individual pockets of excellence working to equally admirable but largely uncoordinated ends.

No question: Mulally has moved the entire organization towards a less inchoate structure; one where employees understand that they must reconcile personal ambition with what they have to do for the “greater good.” Unfortunately, efficiency is not a rallying cry upon which great organizations—or brands—are built.

Sure, Toyota gets maximum props (from Big Al as well) for its lean manufacturing system. But it’s product reliability that defines the Toyota brand for both its workers and consumers. Blessed with an overarching brand promise, ToMoCo is free to fuck up and recover. The FJ Cruiser may be a misbegotten platypus of an off-roader, but it didn’t ding the public’s understanding of the Toyota brand.

Bereft of focused, coherent and compelling branding, Ford has an almost infinite number of ways to fail. And few ways to recover. The Flex? What was that all about? How about, say, any Lincoln product? The Lincoln brand? Volvo? Mercury?

Quality, safety, fuel efficiency, technology, luxury, value. Must. Choose. One. Once that’s done, Ford has to build cars that embody that brand promise better than anyone else in the market—regardless of the cost. As I said when I drove the execrable, warmed-over Focus, Ford can’t afford to make money. Not when their brand is in such dire jeopardy. They should cut their portfolio to the bone, choose a shtick and use it to beat everyone in the entire company. And then sell the beJesus out of it. Relentlessly. Endlessly.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

61 Comments on “Ford Death Watch 47: Taurus! Taurus! Taurus!...”


  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    This is a bit hard on Ford and Mullaly. They’ve stopped the bleeding, they have some very attractive products and they’re currently rationalizing their Supply Base/Purchasing Process. Not bad, and you can’t do everything at once (I would consider that one of GM’s major errors).

    They seem to be addressing their issues in a systematic, prioritized manner. Can’t fault them for that.

  • avatar
    ttacfan

    Rear damage?

    I guess new Taurus had better brakes than the car behind it.

  • avatar
    no_slushbox

    “Volvo guts”

  • avatar
    windswords

    “The company’s rep is riding high on its decision to shun the federal bailout buffet—ignoring the fact that it only did so to protect to Ford family control…”

    Thank you. You wouldn’t believe how many people miss this point. No way were they going to accept taxpayer funds and the federal oversight that comes with it. Nor will they go bankrupt. They owe almost as much money as GM and those lenders won’t be as understanding as Uncle ‘O’ then it comes time for them to pay it back.

    “Quality, safety, fuel efficiency, technology, luxury, value. Must. Choose. One.”

    Couldn’t they do a different one with each brand? Ford = value (or quality), Lincoln = luxury (or technology), Mercury =, =, = ? Maybe fuel efficiency?

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    What is a Toyota? Quality, safety, fuel efficiency, technology, luxury, value? Toyota is all of those things. Why not Ford?

    Here’s the thing. GM has branding problems because they have a history of carving the market into slices for its various brands. Now, the sub-Cadillac market has to be sliced 3 ways. Chrysler? Same problem.

    Ford’s sorry 70 year history with Mercury has finally become a good thing, as there is no American car and truck line that so closely imitates the Toyota model.

    Ford’s job is to provide a line of cars and trucks that is well designed, well built, attractive and provides good value at each price point where it chooses to compete. Yes, even a little luxury at the upper end of its range.

    They have a lot of work to do with Lincoln, and even more with Mercury (if there is a place for it at all) but I think that they have Ford’s territory staked out properly.

  • avatar
    paris-dakar

    I always thought Ford should have made Mercury a Green Brand. Sell Hybrids and Lighter Weight MPG Optimized variants of everything but the Pick Ups.

    Of course the Ford Dealers would have screamed over that…

  • avatar
    michal1980

    sounds the author is ranting more about marketing, then actual ford cars. Seems like they have the most important thing down then.

  • avatar

    windswords

    Couldn’t they do a different one with each brand? Ford = value (or quality), Lincoln = luxury (or technology), Mercury =, =, = ? Maybe fuel efficiency?

    Yes. Absolutely. One selling point per brand. That’s the point of a brand.

    jpcavanaugh:

    What is a Toyota? Quality, safety, fuel efficiency, technology, luxury, value? Toyota is all of those things. Why not Ford?

    No, Toyota = reliability. Everything else is gravy.

    Remember: the brand exists in the consumer’s mind, not in the company. Consumers don’t have room in their heads for multivarious selling points. In fact, branding exists because of that fact.

    michal121

    The brand message is the most important thing. Look at Mercedes. Despite a decade of building crap, the brand survived.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    I don’t think Ford’s problem is their marketing department. Ford’s problem is public perception. The first thing I hear out of many people’s mouths when Ford becomes a part of the conversation is “They build good trucks, but their cars are garbage”, or something to that effect. Ford’s years of cars like the Escort (especially early ones), the Tempo/Topaz, and the first gen Taurus —yes, the one that “saved” Ford. Everyone I know that had one had nothing but problems— soured peoples’ opinions on Ford products, and many of those people will need a lot more than a cute commercial or nifty tagline to be convinced that Ford has changed. Neither Toyota nor Honda spent 20 years burning customers with half-assed products like (GM and) Ford did, and as a result they get a lot more lattitude even when they do something wrong. Ford has got to do everything right for a few years and earn back the trust that they lost before the public at large will consider their vehicles equal to the foreign competition. Better quality, higher safety, more fuel efficiency, greater technology, finer luxury, and stronger value all must be present for them to succeed.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Robert Farago: In other words, truck buyers know the F-150 is built Ford tough (complete with its own logo). But how do you link that selling point with the 2010 Ford Fusion Hybrid’s claim that it’s “the most fuel-efficient midsize sedan in America®”?

    Does Toyota link the Tundra to the Prius? If anything, I see the environmental and engineering effort put into the Prius (and I don’t discount the importance of that effort) giving Toyota a pass with the Tundra (and Sequoia).

    I agree with jpcavanaugh here – for years, Ford’s one weakness, compared to GM, was its inability to match the Pontiac-Oldsmobile-Buick juggernaut in the medium-price market. Its weakness has become a strength. The Ford brand can offer a full-line of vehicles to go toe-to-toe with Toyota. It is the one remaining domestic brand in a position to do this.

    And if the main complaint about Ford right now is that the marketing and branding are fuzzy, I’d say that is probably the best news we’ve heard out of Detroit all year!

  • avatar

    geeber

    Reliability links the Tundra to the Prius.

    And if the main complaint about Ford right now is that the marketing and branding are fuzzy, I’d say that is probably the best news we’ve heard out of Detroit all year!

    That’s not saying anything. And I’d like to point out that chickens come from eggs.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Robert,

    It’s better than hearing that transmissions are failing right out of warranty left and right (Taurus, Windstar in 1990s), or F-150s are spontaneously combusting in people’s garages and burning down the whole house.

    At least now Ford’s vehicles are good. In the old Detroit, much effort would have been put into developing a new brand identity or marketing message for the same old crappy vehicles.

  • avatar
    John Holt

    Since I can remember, Ford’s marketing and advertising approach has been abysmal. Now that they actually have a product line to once again be proud of, marketing is the glaring flaw.

    The worst possible thing they can do to the Taurus is what they have historically done to all their cars: hype it at launch then put it out to pasture and die after 3 months. The nameplate becomes forgotten. Seems they’ve done better on the Fusion, but that appears to be the exception, not the rule.

  • avatar
    carguy

    While the reason for skipping the bailout banquet may not be what it seems, Ford is capitalizing on it and selling themselves as the “American automaker that gets it” – the one who isn’t complaining and is ready to take on the foreign competitors. For the short term that is probably enough of a brand booster. As Ford adds more new, refreshed and more youthful products such as the Fiesta and new Focus to its lineup it can expand on that narrative.

    While Ford is not out of the woods, AM is probably the best domestic auto CEO that Detroit has seen for a long time. GM and Chrysler should be so lucky.

  • avatar

    carguy

    The Blue Oval as “the last real American automaker standing” is the media’s message, not Ford’s. Nor can it be, as FoMoCo wants to keep the teat sucking option open—and we could get technical about that $5.9 billion retooling loan thing.

    I’m not convinced that a big slice of the market is choosing Ford over GM and Chrysler due to bailout bucks.

    More precisely, Chrysler and GM are shedding share, but I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the exodus is headed into Toyodissanai showrooms in similar if not greater proportions compared to Ford.

    Ford’s only real advantage in its cross-town rival’s misery is that it’s got more dealers in rural locations than the transplants, and that’s where ex-Chrysler and GM customers are more likely to live.

    Saying that, I sure would like to see some hard data on all this.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    No one is making the claim that Ford will survive on the new Taurus alone. But look at the rest of their current and future lineup:

    Taurus: decent car, good reviews.
    Fusion: another competitive product, good reviews
    a bunch of recent SUV models (Taurus X, Edge, etc)

    Pipeline: New Focus and Fiesta
    Trucks…

    Enough said. one product will not save them, but overall the lineup looks competitive..

    I still wonder what will happen to their other brands though.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    Mulally has done a great job of juggling the balance sheet and targeting areas where efficiency gains could be made.

    But the changes to the vehicle lineup in North America have been a mixed bag. They may be more reliable, but they aren’t dramatically more desirable. That moves Ford closer to being competitive, but it isn’t class leading.

    Demand for the Taurus-size sedan class is dying off, literally. There might be a niche for a fleet vehicle of this size with some performance version, but this Taurus will probably be invisible to the average consumer who would buy a CUV if they wanted a family car.

    Had it been me, I would have designed a US version of the Falcon that could be sold in North America and the Middle East, designed on a platform that could be shared by the Mustang and some sort of Lincoln in order to reduce costs. The Taurus as it is now seems to me to be a waste of money, although if the MKS can do well, I might be less skeptical.

  • avatar
    mocktard

    We need GM and Chrysler to fail so Ford can have “americanness”

    If the products are good then that is all the brand they need.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This is a bit hard on Ford and Mullaly

    No, it isn’t. Robert is dead-bang-on here.

    Just like Bob Lutz, the Saviour Of GM, could never figure out the reason that people wouldn’t just fall over themselves to buy his masterworks no matter how “perception gap” pieces he hammered out, Mullaly can’t seem to understand that people won’t buy his stuff if he can’t figure out how to market it to them.

    Robert has this dead to rights. Unlike GM and Chrysler, who’ve more or less nailed marketing (if not product planning or building decent cars), Ford can build a good car, but is singularly clueless about how to sell it unless it’s a product (Mustang, F-150) that sells itself. Their non-efforts surrounding the D-Platform and Lincoln are so bad it’s textbook.

    GM, by comparison, almost has people convinced that the Volt is a very good, very real hybrid car. Ford actually does have a real car (the Fusion hybrid) but damned if people know about it. I expect the Fiesta’s marketing to perform a similar belly-flop.

    For all the crowing about getting accountants out and engineers in as an automatic “win” for a car company, this is what happens when engineers think they can do marketing.

  • avatar
    Mr. Sparky

    Ford Death Watch 47: Taurus! Taurus! Taurus!

    Meh! Meh! Meh!

    Once Ford finishes its car replacement cycle next year with the arrival of the Fiesta and Focus, Ford will have one of the best auto portfolios in the business and definitely the best presented by a domestic since the dawn of the muscle car.

    Ford’s marketing does suck (Ford Flex ads anyone?), but that’s really easy to fix (fire a few execs and hire a new agency). Really, marketing, in the long run, doesn’t sell cars. Perception and word-of-mouth does. Consumer Reports stating that modern Fords have comparable quality to their Toyota and Honda counterparts (which they have been lately) is much more successful at winning buyers than any set of TV spots will.

    Like it or not, Consumer Reports rules the automotive choices of the masses. The average consumer that doesn’t know anything about cars will go look up Consumer Reports and see what they think. CR as become consistently more “bullish” on Ford, so its good to be Ford.

    Time and products will save Ford, not better marketing.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Really, marketing, in the long run, doesn’t sell cars.

    Yes, it does. People just don’t understand exactly how big and sprawling a function “marketing” really is, and confuse it with “advertising”, which is just one small subset of the discipline.

    Everything from product planning to competitive intelligence to sales to brand management to, yes, advertising, is a function of marketing. Engineers can build a good product and accountants can keep costs in check, but marketing has the hardest part: figuring out what the engineers ought to be working on and how to get people to buy it.

    Toyota’s brand equity is do in large part to their masterful handling of their marketing, and you can bet that quality slip-ups that would damage that image result in Marketing VPs tearing strips off people. Their ad campaigns—which suck—are really secondary to marketing as a whole.

  • avatar
    law stud

    I think the Taurus will do just fine competing against the Toyota Avalon and Chrysler 300. The Ford literature adds in the Audi A6 and Lexus GS350 which is a more fanciful comparison. One will have to wait and see if the performance numbers match or exceed those 2 cars to really be competitive against them. Also Ecoboost reportedly costs only $750 to add to their V6 yet one can only get it on the SHO model which retails for $37,995 compared to the base Taurus coming in at around 25K. Thus I’d like to see ecoboost on other trims. I can already get a GT G8 for like 26K new with rebates.

    The interior and tech inside is awesome. I love the look and will have to check this out next time I’m ready to buy.

    “The brand message is the most important thing. Look at Mercedes. Despite a decade of building crap, the brand survived.”

    Ford Brand IMHO still suffers. A friend bought an F150 and 2 years traded it in for a Nissan Titan. Their major complaint was that it was cheapo and everything was breaking.

  • avatar
    mattstairs

    Really, marketing, in the long run, doesn’t sell cars. Perception and word-of-mouth does. Consumer Reports stating that modern Fords have comparable quality to their Toyota and Honda counterparts (which they have been lately) is much more successful at winning buyers than any set of TV spots will.

    Mr. Sparky, you nailed it.

    Think of a great car ad. Ok, just remember any car ad you saw recently. Stumped?

    The brand image is built up over a long period of time, i.e. through customer experiences, not a flashy slogan or marketing campaign. There is a brand perception that results with consumers, and that is good (Toyota, Honda, M-B) or bad (GM, Chrysler). Sometimes a negative image is overcome, see Hyundai, but that took concrete steps – building better cars and standing behind them.

  • avatar
    pirkko

    Unlike other companies that feel the need to create / acquire a new brand for each potential market / marketing tagline (old GM), Ford is placing a vehicle in each niche.

    The mustang appeals to the muscle car enthusiasts …
    The flex for a well appointed family hauler …
    The f-150 for a work-truck …
    The focus as an economy car …
    The taurus as well appointed sedan …

    If each vehicle can manage to compete with the products of other manufacturers, then there is no need for badge engineering to focus advertising dollars and perception. And, by all accounts, ford is doing this (not yet greatly, but improving steadily).

    If Ford took the alternative approach, and launched a new family car brand for the taurus and flex and fusion, a muscle car brand for the mustang and badge-engineered taurus-sho, a truck brand, an economy car brand for the focus, fiesta, and fusion, not to mention the potential upscale variations of these … then we’d have GM and there’d be posts about how mis-managed the amalgamation of ford’s brands are and how the brand canabalization is killing profits. Not to mention, creating many brands means creating more dealers who’d be splitting the same base of new vehicle sales (which means a wider, weaker, and less profitable base of dealers).

    Instead of focusing on having a brand for every market, ford is focused on having the competitive vehicle for every shopper. And, when a shopper stops at a ford dealership, they will be greeted by a full line-up of vehicles. So, they’d be more likely to find something they like, even if it wasn’t what they came for.

    As to the marketing … if you consider Ford as promoting a vehicle instead of a brand … at times the marketing almost makes sense … (almost).

  • avatar
    Pch101

    The brand image is built up over a long period of time, i.e. through customer experiences, not a flashy slogan or marketing campaign

    This reveals a basic misunderstanding of what marketing is. Marketing is not supposed to be a hollow, flashy exercise, but a way of making sure that the market connects to the products being sold to them, and vice versa.

    Toyota marketing is actually quite good, even though it isn’t flashy. There is a consistent message of quality and dependability, with the emphasis on alleviating consumer fears, assuring them that they won’t be stuck with an expensive POS with no resale value if they buy one. If Toyota had poor marketing, it wouldn’t be selling as many cars as it does, and they’d be selling for lower prices.

    On the other hand, the marketing won’t work if the products don’t match up. It’s not an either-or question; both matter.

  • avatar
    snabster

    @ psarhjinian; you make an excellent point, but I didn’t see that in the lead-off article.

    It looks as if we are talking about 3 things here:

    branding
    marketing
    advertising

    RF was talking about branding. He’s right that Ford doesn’t stand for anything as brand, but I disagree with him about Toytota. I see a Toyota and think “cheap”. But that’s just me. People ultimately buy cars, not brands. Product counts.

    You’re talking about marketing, and yeah, Ford just doesn’t seem to have any follow through. Having a boeing guy, with no experience in selling to consumers, probably doesn’t help.

    As for advertising, it is such a messed up field with cars. If I just watched TV I would think everyone would drive f150, venzas, and maybe benzs. That is the only ads I can think of.

  • avatar

    Great job, RF, making the case for why GM should have benefitted from having 8+ brands.

    Many people within GM realized that having many brands should have been a huge advantage, as each could then focus on one or two things.

    Problem was not the number of brands, but that GM never managed to provide each brand with the focused, distinctive products needed to back up such tight foci.

    Ford’s marketing has been a diffuse mess for as long as I can remember.

    Even Toyota and Honda realize that “reliability” is a shaky basis for a brand, because the differences are becoming so small. Hence the increasing emphasis on styling by both companies. Sure, the cars often look odd, but they no longer look bland.

  • avatar
    Dave Ruddell

    Think of a great Toyota ad. Ok, just think of any Toyota ad.

    “Yeah I’m gonna equip myself with a little uhh FOUR WHEELS OF FURY!”

    “Did you see me lay down the law? I am the lawgiver!”

    You’ve either seen that ad, or you have no idea what I’m talking about.

  • avatar
    Ingvar

    That car has a giant lard-ass. There’s no other way to see it…

  • avatar
    yankinwaoz

    Good article Robert. I agree that many people have no idea about the Hybrid Fusion.

    Here is an idea for Ford:
    Run ads in all the lefty mags and TV programs that demonstrate the hybrid motor available today… but DON’T mention the brand or model. Let the viewer think they are watching an ad for the new Prius or Honda Hybrid motor. Then fade out with the Ford logo.

    Showing the body of a Ford Fusion, which looks JUST like the ICE version, doesn’t sell it. Toyota made the Prius body distinctive. You know what it is when you see the profile. Because Ford didn’t do this, they will have to sell it from the inside out.

  • avatar
    PaulieWalnut

    If Toyota’s brand is ‘reliable,’ then what the hell is a Honda?

    Years ago, Volvo’s brand was ‘safe.’ Volvo’s are still safe today but because of the likes of IIHS and EuroNCAP all other mainstream manufacturers are safe too. Today, what mid-size sedan is chosen over the others because of it’s superior safety record? They’re all 5-star, top safety picks. This is because there is only so much you can do in terms of passive safety. Volvo ran out of things to do in order to keep ahead of the competition has resorted to gadgets like ‘lane change assist.’ Their competitive advantage has been eroded and they are floundering.

    Now look at reliable Toyota and Honda. In the end you can only make a car so reliable. As competitors like Hyundai and, yes, Ford catch up, ‘reliable’ will become increasingly worthless as a way to sell cars, just as safety did.

    If i was in Alan Mullaly’s shoes, here’s what i’d do:

    1. Make sure that Fords become automatically eligible for the Consumer Reports ‘Top Pick’ gong. This means that every Ford must be reliable according to CR’s subscriber survey. This would erode Toyota’s ‘reliable’ brand. In fairness, Ford has made great progress on this in the last few years.

    2. Build good looking cars. “I just had to have the new Focus. It’s so slick and you know, it’s just as reliable as my old Toyota. It said so in Consumer Reports.” The Fiesta and Taurus seem to be a step in the right direction in this regard.

    3. With those out of the way, Ford’s should be marketed on their superior driving dynamics, just as they successfully are in Europe. Note, they haven’t done this through a big advertising campaign saying ‘buy our cars because they’re fun to drive!’ Ford of Europe have simply consistently built engaging to drive cars since the 1st gen Focus. Consistent good reviews and and word of mouth have allowed Ford’s central brand message to become accepted wisdom in Europe. Once Ford gets the next Focus out and has killed the crown vic they can start hammering the message home:

    Ford Trucks = tough. Ford Cars = fun to drive.

    The great thing about marking out driving dynamics as your, um, thing, is that there will always be room for improvement. Unlike safety and reliability there will always be plenty of work to be done before your average mid-sizer will handle like a go-kart.

  • avatar
    greenb1ood

    RF:

    Dirty little secret…

    Ford internally wants their brand identity to be innovation and technology. They didn’t engage in development and marketing of SYNC because they want to be considered something else. It’s an option at a low price point for a reason…proliferation.

    The problem is that you can’t market yourself as the gadget leader until you have the market cornered in that respect. The SYNC is the first step and they plan to follow it up with more technology on decent, attractive, reliable cars.

    The funny thing is that this editorial comes just days after Jack pointed out the “Killer Apps” on the 2010 Taurus pictured above.

    Once Ford has enough technology up and down their line of vehicles (maybe 2011/12?) they will either start to inundate the public with that message (wrong way) or they will simply let the buzz occur in the press and from consumer word-of-mouth (right way). Consider that Toyota never had commercials touting their quality until they had a reputation to back it up…Apple didn’t start picking on Microsoft publicly until they had products that were clearly better. They let word of mouth build the reputation, ten went on the attack.

    I think for once in the last two decades, the marketing arm is being smart by resisting the urge to make the “Technology Leader!!!” claim until the title is actually earned and recognized by the industry.

    They are on the right track considering a $30k Taurus already outdoes the $80k 6-Series in the in-car tech department. Just use SYNC, then try to make a hands-free call in the Bimmer.

  • avatar
    ronin

    It’s not clear why a refresh of an already slow-selling bomb will suddenly be a salvation. Especially when the sticker price soars.

    Don’t think you’ll sell enough? Charge more and declare it a premium.

    Chrysler did this with the Pacifica. And that was a new model. When first introduced every unit was optioned to the gills, and Chrysler hinted that it had Mercedes guts. That sticker price ensured it never gained traction, and now it is history.

  • avatar
    mattstairs

    Dave Ruddell

    I’ve never seen those ads, either they aren’t run where I live or like most people I am just totally tuning out commercials these days. (Maybe Toyota and Honda were bad examples – I should have just said any car company.)

    I’m not saying that car companies don’t have good commercials or that they aren’t important.

    What I’m saying is that commercials are not the dominant reason why people buy cars. People don’t see a great commercial and then run right out and buy a Toyota. If sucessful, they put a car on your radar screen. Maybe.

    It’s the cars. You see a car on the road and like the looks of it. Maybe you know someone with one and ask them about it. Then you research it. You test drive it. Price it out. Haggle. If you still like it (could have dropped off at any previous stage), it meets your needs, and you can afford it, then you buy it.

    It’s not as simple as seeing a funny Coke commercial and then choosing it over Pepsi the next time you’re in the store.

    Even Toyota and Honda realize that “reliability” is a shaky basis for a brand, because the differences are becoming so small. Hence the increasing emphasis on styling by both companies. Sure, the cars often look odd, but they no longer look bland.

    This is so true. This is why Ford went to their “edgier” styling. They realized that if they merely matched Toyota in quality, price, features, etc., that people would still buy a Toyota over a Ford. They needed something else to distinguish themselves.

  • avatar
    zaitcev

    Who the hell cares about the brand? Only marketing officers, that’s who. Here’s a couple of facts for Robert:
    – FJ is AWESOME.
    – Fusion is extremely well put together, and the 2010 Fusion is even better. Journos admit it matching Accord and Camry; reliablity is excellent; they have a 6sp auto standard on a 4cyl for crying out loud.

    As for the Taurus, well, it cannot be a bad thing if Ford produced a better Avalon than Toyota. It’s probably not very significant anyhow.

  • avatar
    Ach

    The great thing about marking out driving dynamics as your, um, thing, is that there will always be room for improvement. Unlike safety and reliability there will always be plenty of work to be done before your average mid-sizer will handle like a go-kart.

    The problem is that Ford has of late been going in the wrong direction on driving dynamics. The Focus is dumbed down from its predecessor, as was the Taurus that replaced the Five Hundred (I haven’t sampled the new one). Even the Fusion is not as sharp as the original according to what I have read (excepting the Sport).

    Especially in the case of the Focus and Five Hundred/Taurus, I would love to know what Ford was thinking, as the “new” cars were significantly worse than the cars they replaced in terms of dynamics. “Hey, let’s add some float and some slop in the steering, and then everyone will think its a Toyota”?

  • avatar
    blue adidas

    There’s a lot of marketing theory being discussed. But the reality is that Ford needs to build cars that people want to buy. Truth be told, Ford’s marketing has always been good. They just haven’t had the product to back up the messaging. Now it looks like they finally do. I hope.

  • avatar
    CarnotCycle

    “Yeah I’m gonna equip myself with a little uhh FOUR WHEELS OF FURY!”

    “Did you see me lay down the law? I am the lawgiver!”

    You’ve either seen that ad, or you have no idea what I’m talking about.

    The WoW ad for the Tacoma was good. I have to admit, I liked the Tacoma ad where the asteroid hits a little bit better though.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Ford Trucks = tough. Ford Cars = fun to drive.

    Fun to drive does not sell enough to sustain a mass-market marque. I don’t know what Ford needs to concentrate on, but fun to drive is not it, not if they want to sustain marketshare.

    Put it this way: Mazda treads on fun to drive and can’t crack the minor leagues (which is why the 6 got softened somewhat), while Honda’s abandoning of it hasn’t hurt their mainstream sales one bit.

    I don’t envy their position, if for no other reason than attempts by a domestic marque to play the reliability card (which, truly, is what you must play to win in this market) are met with sheer skepticism. After all, if you bought a car with the AXOD transmission, what would you have thought about “Quality is Job 1”?

  • avatar
    ragtopman

    Sure, the cars often look odd, but they no longer look bland.
    I guess bland is in the eyes of the beholder. To me, styling has become a forgotten commodity in this era of the “driving appliance.”

  • avatar
    Bruce from DC

    To be sure, Ford as a brand is pretty much devoid of content, and what content there is, is negative.

    So, it seems that the first place to start is to eliminate those negatives. Ford sorta seems to be doing that. Complaints about the interior of the first-gen Fusion have been answered in the second-gen, and so on.

    I say “sorta” because, as a former SHO owner (1992-2002; yeah, I liked the car) the one thing that really cheesed me about the car were the inadequate brakes. The original discs were made of cheap metal that was guaranteed to warp after one of my trips to my mountain house in West Virginia. I found a SHO specialist in my area who sold me some higher-quality discs that tolerated the heat. But adding bigger discs in the front was a fairly elaborate job of replacing the spindles as well as the discs and the calipers. Now, I see in the C&D test of the new SHO, that FoMoCo has the same brakes in the hot version of the car as in the grandmom version . . . with predictably sorry results. C’mon guys! Why build a car that hits 60 mph in 5.2 seconds that doesn’t stop worth shit? How much money are you saving by doing that? What’s the hit on your “brand equity” from that “saving”?

    It’s this kind of thing that speaks “Old Detroit” and has gotta go. “Old Detroit” thinking was to give customers a lot of flash and then cut corners where you didn’t think they would notice. Trouble is, people do notice . . . and it reflects badly on the brand.

    The Toyota people recognize that lots of car buyers are not “buying excitement” they’re buying an appliance, just like a fridge. Those are the people who live and die by the CR ratings.

    So, that’s a good place to start. So, Ford, if you’re doing a “performance sedan,” like the ’10 SHO, do it right. “Performance” in a car means going, turning and stopping!

  • avatar

    The criticism of the article I don’t see it. Two things strike me.

    First Ford is no different than any other car company right now. I don’t think any car company can really pull off more than two brands. One regular car line and one upscale. Thats what Toyota, Nissan, and Honda are doing don’t try and reinvent the wheel.

    Second the cars speak louder than the marketing. I doesn’t matter how much you market a message. GM always blasted out that they made more cars with over 30 MPG than any other car maker. The reality is that generally their cars got worse mileage and the public didn’t buy the message. GM can and has advertised the hell out of improved quality or sportiness or whatever and ultimately the public ain’t buying it over the years. Marketing luxury or sportiness or whatever is secondary and almost irrelevant to the product.

    Think about Toyota I really can’t think of their current tagline. Years ago they had Oh what a feeling or You asked for it you got it toyota. I don’t ever recall them advertising specifically beating you over the head repeatedly about their quality. They came to them via the product.

    Just pick each market segment you want to be in and engineer the best basic car or truck for that segment like Toyota and Honda. Make your upscale brand distinctively upscale from there. Now fiddle around with marketing. The last is the least difficult to do. Ford seems to be pulling off the difficult stuff.

  • avatar
    kowsnofskia

    “The brand image is built up over a long period of time, i.e. through customer experiences, not a flashy slogan or marketing campaign. There is a brand perception that results with consumers, and that is good (Toyota, Honda, M-B) or bad (GM, Chrysler). Sometimes a negative image is overcome, see Hyundai, but that took concrete steps – building better cars and standing behind them.”

    This is the crux of “marketing” that the Big Three seem to have forgotten about. For instance, Toyota’s “ask someone you know” marketing slogan is quite powerful because it acknowledges the fact that brand reputation is largely spread by word of mouth and personal experience. All the posturing and empty promise-making in the world won’t enhance a brand’s reputation for any significant length of time if those promises aren’t backed up by quality product. Far too many people these days seem to think that “marketing” is just an exercise in whitewashing consumers into thinking whatever the marketers want them to think.

    Ford’s problem, frankly, is the fact that its design and marketing departments seem to be completely disconnected from each other. The engineers seem to design lots of vehicles that aren’t clearly aimed at any market niche – and the marketers don’t seem to know what to do with those vehicles once they appear. Why, for instance, does Ford have the Edge, Explorer, Escape, and (until recently) Taurus X? These vehicles all seem to overlap the same market space to a large extent, and Ford doesn’t seem to have the foggiest clue as to how to market them. Heck, the Freestyle/Taurus X was a half-decent wagon that died simply because Ford built it but then didn’t put any sort of marketing effort behind it.

    On top of that, Ford has a nasty habit of letting many models go far too long between redesigns (i.e., Ranger, Focus, Escape, Crown Vic, etc). Why? Well, they had to redesign the F-150 and Explorer, right?

  • avatar
    ajla

    @Bruce from DC:

    Brakes that feel like mashed potatoes and fade after two hard stops are a FoMoCo hallmark.

    With the SHO, just like on the Mustang GT, one has to purchase an optional “performance package” to get the good brakes.

    The SHO’s “performance package” also includes performance tires because Ford pulled a Chrysler and decided that standard all-season tires were good enough for their 365hp “Super High-Output” $37K sports sedan.

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    “Note: it doesn’t matter if any of these selling points are true. They’re just too damn many of them. The Ford brand stands for everything and nothing at the same time.”

    TTAC seems to think that a lack of a clear branding identity equals failure, but I think what Ford is doing here is smart.

    But first, what brand honestly has a ‘clear’ branding identity? Honda can’t decide whether it wants to build fun to drive, reliable cars, or out-eco Toyota. Nissan can’t decide whether it wants to be fun to drive (Altima, Maxima, Z) or economical (Versa, Cube, Sentra.) Hyundai… the Genesis… the Accent. BMW was sporty, but how do you explain the X6? Same with Porsche. So the entire idea that you need religious brand adherence really doesn’t ring true anymore as companies try to relocate their niche.

    And hence, there’s where Ford is smart. Ford’s mantra right now in all of its advertising campaigns is “we build good cars.” That’s all it needs in this economy. They don’t eschew sport, luxury, efficiency, or any particular demographic… they’re trying to indicate their cars are good enough at all of them, but at the end of the day they’re stating that their cars are of good quality- that’s what you get when you buy Ford. I don’t think the consumer zeitgeist right now can tolerate the same level of BS you saw 5 years ago depicting a certain ‘lifestyle’ with each product.

    And frankly, the new generation of Gen-Y buyers are not fooled by brands. They may be loyal to a particular manufacturer or company, but more and more, people lump brands such as Toyota and Lexus together, Nissan/Infiniti, etc. I don’t expect a Taurus to drive like a Mustang, but I expect the same levels of quality. That’s how future car buyers treat these.

  • avatar
    wsn

    psarhjinian :
    June 25th, 2009 at 10:31 am

    Robert has this dead to rights. Unlike GM and Chrysler, who’ve more or less nailed marketing (if not product planning or building decent cars), Ford can build a good car, but is singularly clueless about how to sell it unless it’s a product (Mustang, F-150) that sells itself. Their non-efforts surrounding the D-Platform and Lincoln are so bad it’s textbook.

    —————————————–

    I think marketing is sometimes over rated. These aren’t small unknown companies to begin with. So, it’s more or less products selling themselves. Just look at 1st gen xB.

    The real catch is to make the product/brand consistently competitive for a very long time to make it reach that “sell itself” stage.

  • avatar
    Lokkii

    And frankly, the new generation of Gen-Y buyers are not fooled by brands. They may be loyal to a particular manufacturer or company, but more and more, people lump brands such as Toyota and Lexus together, Nissan/Infiniti, etc.

    What do you think the definition of Brand really is?

  • avatar
    Lee

    Marketing failures are not limited to Ford in the USA.

    Ford Australia also suffers, although has been improving. The Falcon has been widely regarded as a much better car than the Commodore for years, yet the Commode has constantly outsold it. The latest FG Falcon has been doing much better though.

    Perhaps Fords domination of the V8 Supercars over the last year or so has something to do with it, who knows.

    /Aussieness

  • avatar
    dkulmacz

    RF,

    I think you’re trumping up variations in current advertising lines and then confusing them with a wavering central message.

    Ford’s message was — and is — Drive One . . . drop your pre-existing notions and drive one, dammit.

    Why drive one?

    Quality, safety, green cred (hybrids) . . . those lines built on the central message by pointing out some reasons to try a Ford.

    And now we have Drive the Ford Difference. Same game. Why drive one? Because Ford is different. The base message is the same . . . drive one.

    I’ve never quite understood your obsession with narrow and unwavering brand positioning as savior. I think that is really much more important to brand managers and advertising professionals as a point of principal than it actually is to the common man. Especially for a product like cars, that have plenty of distinguishing characteristics and don’t need the artificial separation brands supply. People are smart enough to hear that Ford has quality vehicles, and that Mustangs are fun to drive, and that Fusions are a smart pick with good mileage, and that F-Series are tough, and that Ford vehicles are safe . . . and not drop into a fugue state and forget Ford exists.

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    Ford has lots of brands. Strong ones: F-150. Mustang. Potentially recoverable ones: Taurus. Explorer. Focus. Weak ones: Flex. Ranger. Fusion.

    If you want to call these models, fine, but that doesn’t mean they’re not brands. They are, and as a matter of law. If you don’t think so, try selling a Mustaeng sports car and see what happens.

    The absence of a strong brand umbrella hinders but does not foreclose the introduction and growth of successful models. How strong was the Ford brand when the Taurus was first introduced? How strong was the Chrysler brand when the PT Cruiser came on the market? Or how about the Chrysler mini-van on the heels of the company’s near bankruptcy?

    Fusion is a good example of a brand that is building equity. The first generation car was solid but didn’t stand out against its leading competitors. In Fusion’s segment, good enough isn’t. The just introduced second generation car does stand out. Its grille is an eye catcher. The 41 mpg hybrid is sending a message that this car is special. And sales have bumped up into the top three. While sales of numbers one and two are tanking.

    In time, Fusion may come to stand for the great American mid-size. Just as the once meaningless “Camry” now stands for the unbreakable Japanese mid-size. “Great American” has considerable persuasive power for lots of people. At a minimum, it’s enough to get them into the dealership to “drive one.” And given the likely futures of GM and Chrysler, “Great American” is a brand attribute that Ford vehicles may soon have to themselves.

    I expect that the next Focus will do the same thing. And the growing strength of the other models in the Ford line will support the Focus brand.

    Ultimately this is a bottom up strategy. The model/brands will build the brand umbrella, Ford. Which will stand for American cars as good as the competition. That’s enough to put the individual brands in play. After that, it’s Focus versus Golf and F-150 versus Tundra. If the products keep improving at the furious rate we’re now witnessing, that’s all Ford needs.

  • avatar
    King Bojack

    Perhaps Farago is right. Apple sells ass products in a marketplace with many superior alternatives but retards drink it up iPods and Phones left and right despite much better alternatives because they’re hip and Apple out markets the piss out of every one (Nintendo is taking the same approach)

    Perhaps he’s wrong and Ford will little by little gain the same kind of word of mouth alongside CR and JD Powers doing the real marketing grunt work for them. Only time will tell.

    It is funny as if the reason why the denied the Uncle Sugar loans matters to much of any one except those with axes to grind w/ Ford.

    And the real marketing power brand power behind Toyota and Honda is excellent package deals. You make next to no compromises to drive one. This is in contrast to nearly every other manufacturer except perhaps new Ford and maybe some new models here and there with other brands.

  • avatar

    Ford needs to stop doing Fugly designs and rebadges.

    They need to make the Ford line into the [reliable] US version of VW. Affordable, well-built, non-fugly, peoples’ car.

    Then use that mass engine’s success to turn Merc into the US Acura/Audi analogue.

    And then turn Lincoln into the US Lexus/Bentley analogue.

    -None of which they will do making Fugly, crappy cars with designs better left in the 70’s.


    The other day, a friend described to me the [branding] aura of a ’51 Mercury back in the day. -Where the hell is that ethos today?

  • avatar
    mikeolan

    @King Bojack

    Actually, Apple is considered to deliver the best end user experience unique to the marketplace and is considered to have the most educated consumers in the marketplace as well because of how they reach their customers versus how their competition reaches their customers. It’s pretty hard to argue otherwise.

    The “superior” alternatives to, for example, the iPhone involved clunky bricks of crap that could technically do far more on paper (for example Windows Mobile) but required a disproportionate amount of effort to bring about any sort of relevant usability (download a bunch of unsupported 3rd party software.) On the PC front, Apple opened retail stores that offer classes educating people about their product, vs. the PC approach which is honestly “keep em stupid.” (Why do you think there’s so much demoware and bloatware of software no educated consumer would want?)

    This is actually relevant to Ford… my last 5 experiences with Ford dealers, it was miserable- every negative stereotype of car buying I could imagine. Now that Ford has improved their product, they need to work on how they interface with the customer. They need to differentiate buying a car so that you don’t feel like such a victim.

  • avatar
    Dynamic88

    Note: it doesn’t matter if any of these selling points are true. They’re just too damn many of them. The Ford brand stands for everything and nothing at the same time.

    I think this is spot on. I also think it extends to other automakers besides Ford.

    We’re living in a time when models have become brands unto themselves, which is why Ford has so many selling points – one for each model.

    It doesn’t seem so long ago (to an old guy like me) that Olds was selling several different cars called Cutlass. The model was more important than the brand.

    I know lots of people who swear up and down that Ford makes great trucks, but lousy cars. I don’t wish to argue the point, one way or the other. The more important thing is that no one should be thinking this. It’s a brand failure if Ford’s “truck cred” doesn’t permeate the entire family of self-propelled vehicles.

    I know people who would consider a Mustang (having wanted one since ’64) but would never look twice at a Taurus. There is no overall brand identity, so even if people like one model, that doesn’t mean they’ll consider anything else in Ford’s lineup.

    I also agree with RF that most of GM/Chryco loss of market share probably isn’t going to Ford. More like to Toyondisandai.

  • avatar
    P71_CrownVic

    Spot on Robert, spot on.

    Funny you mention the Ford difference. I was to assume that the Ford difference was trying to be just like Toyota and Honda…because that’s who they mention in all of their ads. So much for being different…

  • avatar
    TomH

    More to the point, Big Al has done nothing to save the Ford brand.

    RF,

    Nothing!? Ford has shed and/or is in the process of shedding Nasser’s PAG legacy including Land Rover, Jag, Aston Martin, Mazda, and Volvo to focus on Ford and Lincoln brands. (Mercury may be the beneficiary of state franchise laws, otherwise, they too could be on this list.) Taurus was resurrected to be the flagship sedan nameplate. President Obama is driving a Ford branded hybrid and Ford was first in line, with the attendant press coverage on the Fed’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Incentive Program.

    “Big Al” may not yet be ready to claim his CEO of the Decade award, but you’re beginning to sound an awful lot like Sen. Shelby.

  • avatar
    quasimondo

    There’s one crucial mistake made when comparing Toyota’s branding to ford’s lack of it. That mistake is assuming that toyota’s branding is reliability. It isn’t. Reliability isn’t branding, it’s a reputation. If you’re relying on a reputation to build your brand, then no amount of advertising or coherent product development will help establish this.

    This applies to other generic factors, like branding based on safety. Anybody can build a safe car nowadays, and it is expected that a car can last 100,000+ miles. Beyond that, what is Toyota selling differently from Honda or Nissan or Ford?

    Toyota has no branding, just a reputation that people confuse with branding. The truth about branding is that it’s an easy way to pigeonhole your company to build certain cars and nothing outside those lines. Why would any automaker limit themselves like this is beyond me.

  • avatar
    baldheadeddork

    @ Farago:

    “Toyota = Quality”

    [scooby_doo]Barwooooo?[/scooby_doo]

    Toyota has done a really good job at diluting that message over the last decade. Their attempt to boost profits by squeezing suppliers caused a hit to their reputation for reliability, they had to replace thousands of engines because of oil sludge, they’ve been panned (relatively speaking) in recent years by Consumer Reports for reliability problems and in the buff books for making boring cars, and people really don’t like the experience of buying from a Toyota dealer.

    There are reasons why Toyota’s market share plateaued in the US well before the market collapsed last year. I bet if you asked a thousand Toyota owners to describe the brand in one word, “Quality” wouldn’t crack the top ten and you’d have at least a couple unflattering answers. I bet anything the top response would be “Eh, OK.”

    Honda still has that reputation for quality. Subaru is inspiring the kind of owner affection Toyota used to have. Hyundai has amazing value. But none of those can describe Toyota, not anymore.

    Want to talk about old slogans and jingles? Name one current Toyota that would inspire you to sing “I love what you do for me”, or exclaim “Oh, what a feeling!” Tell me you could use those with a straight face about any Toyota today.

    I’d like to see Ford get a little sharper with their advertising, but give them some credit. Mike Rowe is a brilliant choice for a spokesman. Denis Leary’s spots for the F-150 are light years better than anything from Chevy, Dodge or Toyota. It’s not even close.

    And I think there’s something to be said for the regular owner talking about how much they like the car or its features in a time like this. Five years ago something like the current car commercials wouldn’t have worked at all. But today, when there is so much distrust for corporations and their promises, putting a regular person in a car and talking about how great it is might be more effective at getting consumer’s attention and beginning to win their trust. Introduce it with a recognizable, inviting and friendly voice like Rowe’s – that’s not great advertising but it might be the most effective message for the times.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    Out of curiosity, how many responders were drawn to read this article about Ford marketing due to the ‘sensational’ photo of a brand-new, damaged 2010 Taurus?

  • avatar
    armadamaster

    Ford’s neglect of once successful vehicles to this day like Ranger, Grand Marquis, Town Car, is down right criminal, and I have seen Mulally do nothing to correct this other than try and further limit their sales in favor of unproven products.

  • avatar
    Rada

    Anybody can build a safe car nowadays, and it is expected that a car can last 100,000+ miles

    Umm, no, not really. I want 100K trouble-free miles, not just any 100K miles. This is where Toyota shines btw.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • Art Vandelay: Sony makes great phones. They don’t have a carrier deal so they aren’t huge in the US....
  • golden2husky: Fleet use is probably best suited to deal with the shortcomings of recharge times – they...
  • ToolGuy: I am unreasonable and irresponsible. My Porter-Cable 737 corded “Tiger Saw” reciprocating saw...
  • Eaststand: until electric vehicles offer an advantage to IC, no ones buying these novelties en masse. There has to be...
  • loopy55: Here in San Diego the US has its own “border” just before the entry into Mexico. This has license plate...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber