Jim Farley, Ford’s CMO, created quite a stir this week at an auto industry confab in northern Michigan when he told reporters that he had called his counterpart at General Motors, Joel Ewanick, to apologize.
For what, pray tell? For making a few choice remarks about a rival — specifically, General Motors.
“F**k GM,” Farley was quoted as saying in a new book on the industry, Once Upon a Car, by New York Times reporter Bill Vlasic. “I hate them and their company and what they stand for. And hate the way they’re succeeding.”
But that wasn’t the kind of buzz Farley really wanted to talk about.
His preferred topic was noting what Ford has been learning about viral marketing from the consumer-electronics industries and others, from Apple and other brands, that manage to get consumers talking about their products long before they come out and forever afterward.
“We have to learn how to create a community who knows how to use our products and are willing to share their experiences and knowledge with others,” Farley said.
Of any auto maker, Ford arguably already is in the lead on that score. Social-media programs fueled a great launch for the new Fiesta last year and also have played a big role in more recent success for the new versions of Focus (witness the Doug "spokespuppet" campaign on YouTube) and Explorer.
But Ford had a big setback lately when the use of MyFord Touch — a new technology option overlaying its Sync infotainment system — proved difficult and confusing for many customers and caused a backlash that was picked up by J.D. Power & Associates in the release of its Initial Quality Survey of automakers a few weeks ago.
Ford is trying to undo that problem with more training of dealers and by giving customers more ways of learning how to tap into MyFord Touch. But Farley seems eager to have a new community of owners who like and appreciate the feature and who could help bring newbies along.
And that would really be a way to put one over on his rivals at GM.