Ford may be trying to keep its brand name and logo on the downlow in its "Go Further" TV campaign, but it's hard to hide the enthusiasm around company headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., these days as the U.S. auto recovery picks up speed — and so does Ford.
That may be why CEO Alan Mulally was ebullient at Ford's annual general meeting in Wilmington, Del., on Thursday. "We are no longer turning around," Mulally told shareholders. "We are moving ahead."
The company hasn't yet gotten its iconic Blue Oval out of hock, but additional ratings-agency bumps of Ford bonds are expected to move that moment closer, as Ford seeks to regain control of one of the major assets it pledged as collateral in its private-borrowing spree before the Great Recession.
Despite its logo-free, low-key branding, the first "Go Further" U.S. TV commercial (the 60-second commercial released Apr. 30th, above) rose to the top of Ad Age magazine's Viral Video chart after chalking up almost 3 million views in a week. The spot, featuring glimpses of new Ford products and features but not the Ford name or logo, beat out other viral videos including the "Invisible Children" video by Kony 2012 and "No More Mr. Nice Girl," T-Mobile's attempt to break its goody two-shoes image. The stars in that spot: the unreleased 2013 Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid and the 2013 Escape.
The second "Go Further" U.S. spot (released May 8th), is similar but highly branded — it verbalizes the Ford brand name, shows the blue oval logo and the EcoBoost logo, mentions car models by name, and mentions the “Go Further” slogan but ends with a call-out to visit Ford.com (while the first spot's call to action drove viewers to visit gofurther.com):
"We're aiming these ads directly at the skeptics," stated Jim Farley, Ford's global CMO, about the logo-free kick-off to the U.S. consumer TV campaign. "These consumers have blinders up when they see a Ford logo, so we have to do something that's disruptive and unexpected from a car company if we expect to get noticed by them."
"We wanted to ask customers who were the most skeptical [about Ford] to reconsider for a week," Farley told auto reporters today about why Ford withheld brand identification from the first U.S. TV commercial.
Ford plans to spend roughly $30 million to $50 million to support the Go Further mantra, a Ford insider added. The campaign now pivots to playing a crucial role in the upcoming launches of two very important new Ford brand products this year: the 2013 Fusion and 2013 Escape.
"All the preparation we’ve done to this point really does come down to those two launches," Farley stressed to reporters.
Clearly, "Go Further" is more than a tagline — it's the global brand promise, as the automaker has been promoting through an internal brand engagement campaign that includes inspirational videos from executives and local market examples. An employee FAQ explains the customer proposition behind "Go Further":
Q. What is the core message you want customers to take away when they see, hear or read Go Further?
A. That as part of its everyday business, Ford and its employees, dealers and suppliers are always pushing harder, going further—that good is not good enough. Individually and collectively, we at Ford Go Further in everything we do, so that our customers can go further in their lives.
The employee FAQ also explains how "Go Further" unifies the company's global operations and "One Ford" vision:
Q. Why didn't you just use "One Ford" as the new brand promise?
A. “One Ford” is not a brand promise. It is our company’s business plan. It describes what we have to be and what we have to achieve to succeed as a business, and has no real meaning for our customers. Go Further is what the One Ford plan delivers; that is how they are linked.
As Farley commented back in January when the "Go Further" positioning was revealed, “A brand promise simplifies the culture and what makes a company different in the consumer’s world with the products and services it offers. It distills all that to one promise where when you talk to a neighbor about your workplace or when a customer talks to a neighbor about the vehicle they’re driving it all rolls up into that one thought.”
"Go Further," as Ford's first global branding platform, will replace old slogans that may still be in place in local markets such as "Drive One" and, in Europe, "Feel the Difference." In the U.S., its marketing efforts are geared at carbuyers on the East and West coasts, as evidenced by the automaker's San Francisco activation, a gallery-style pop-up exhibition that that targeted cultural influencers.
In Europe, Ford has been using social media to communicate the "Go Further" tagline, including seeding viral stunt videos promoting Ford’s active park assist technology:
As seen in the second U.S. commercial the automaker is doubling down — actually, tripling down — on a sub-brand: EcoBoost, its family of turbocharged and direct-injected engines that are fetching significantly higher fuel economy and propelling sales of conventional Ford vehicles. Ford plans to make three times more EcoBoost engines in Europe by 2015 than it did last year. The company also is ratcheting up U.S. output of EcoBoost engines.
Overall, while Ford's year-to-year sales increases have slowed this year from the brisk pace of 2010 and 2011, the company is continuing to consolidate its stronger position in the U.S. market. Employee morale is on the rise, even as Ford is shortening summer vacations for workers at several of its U.S. facilities so that production can increase by 40,000 units —indicating that Ford executives believe they can pick up about an extra 0.3 percent of the American market this year.
Since 2008, the company says it has boosted U.S. consumer perceptions of the brand's four key attributes — quality, green, safe and smart — by 24-70 percent. The automaker also says its favorability rating in consumer surveys has grown 32 percent in the past four years, although it still trails Honda and Toyota. Consideration of the Ford brand and vehicles also grew by 32 percent this year compared with 2008 (ahead of Honda and slightly behind Toyota). Shopping of Ford vehicles grew by 33 percent in those four years, according to its executives — its highest level ever, and ahead of Honda and Toyota.
Ford also is building excitement behind the launch of the 2015 Ford Mustang, which is expected to be a significant overhaul of the original pony car. Alleged sketches of the new design are starting to leak out, quickening the pulse of Mustang enthusiasts who also look forward to celebrating the nameplate's 50th birthday.
There's one more way Ford is stepping up for its brand: Ford is getting aggressive about protecting its copyrights and trademarks in China, a problematic market for intellectual property. It has just blocked Chinese competitor JAC, for instance, from selling a truck that Ford said mimics the look of its F-150 pickup.
The message from Ford these days is: Don't mess with the Blue Oval, even if they don't fully own it — yet.
Below, watch a 30-second version of the latest "Go Further" U.S. commercial: