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Ford Fiesta Sales Slump Highlights Social Marketing Challenges

Posted by Dale Buss on May 9, 2012 11:01 AM

Ford became the industry trailblazer in social media three years when it launched the "Fiesta Movement" about a year ahead of the Fiesta's availability to car-buyers. The marketing experiment seemed to work in spades, but now sales of the model are slumping.

Are other factors to blame for the sales slump, and is it not a problem, as Ford executives insist? Or does the fact that Fiesta sales are falling off after only two years suggest anything at all about the effectiveness of a marketing platform for the car that has been largely based on social media?

The Fiesta Movement took the social- and digital-marketing world by storm with its legions of influential bloggers writing, throughout 2009 and beyond, about what a great car the subcompact was. The Millennial-focused effort at one point had garnered more than 100,000 "handraisers" who were showing an interest in the car, more than 6.2 million views on TouTube and nearly four million Twitter impressions.

Fiesta sales spiked last year to a total of 69,000 sales, but this year they have fallen off precipitously despite higher gasoline prices and strong demand by U.S. consumers for fuel-efficient vehicles.

Ford executives blame a number of factors for Fiesta's hyperbolic sales arc. Foremost is the fact that Fiesta was the only small Ford car available early last year when gasoline prices began rising because the larger Focus was in the middle of a transition to a new model. This year, now that Focus — which competes in a compact-sedan segment that remains about three times larger than Fiesta's subcompact segment — is broadly available, it is stealing many of the sales that were Fiesta's to enjoy last year.

Other factors, Ford executives told brandchannel, have included the continuing financial struggles of Millennials, Fiesta's target market; relative lack of support for actual Fiesta sales from dealer ads and retail programs; and the fact that many consumers will move up to Focus though perhaps originally intending to buy a Fiesta because the entry-level price difference between the two is just a little over $3,000.

But Ford's marketing brain trust doesn't blame any sort of long-term lack of efficacy by the Fiesta Movement campaign. It "was intended to be an introductory program, an upper-funnel launch initiative whose objective was to grow nameplate awareness and favorable opion for the car," one said. "It succeeded hugely."

"The sales cycle of our vehicles is a complex process with multiple data points that inform each buyer's decision," said Scott Monty, Ford's manager of digital and multimedia communications.

OK. But using Ford's own earlier-expressed expectations for Fiesta Movement and subsequent digital-marketing efforts for Fiesta, couldn't they have been counted on to produce a sales surge of longer duration? Ford U.S. Vice President of Sales Ken Czubay said last week that Fiesta's lower sales are what the company considers "normal volume."

Ford's early discussions of Fiesta Movement talked about creating "brand loyalty." And in December, 2009, Connie Fontaine, then Ford's brand content and alliances manager, declared about Fiesta Movement, "Never before has a group of car owners created such a sustained buzz for a new car."

The challenge, as in all marketing campaigns of course — how to keep the momentum going past the initial buzz phase in order to drive sustainable sales?

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