2011 Chicago Auto Show: Media Day Discussions, Unveilings, and Auto Technology’s Roots in Motorsports (Part 1)


Jim Farley, Ford Motor Company's Group Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show presents the meaning and driving force behind Ford's "Go. Do." campaign.

Media Day at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show began with a breakfast for a “who’s who” of media and automotive industry professionals.  Tom Appel, the new president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), opened with an enjoyable and informative presentation on the organization’s future and successful implementation of strategies that led to the Chicago Auto Show’s rapid growth over the last few years.  Appel then announced that after seventy-five automotive journalists voted for the MAMA Car of the Year, the award went to the 2011 Hyundai Sonata (the other two finalists were the 2011 Honda Odyssey and 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee).  All in attendance applauded with enthusiasm and vigor as Hyundai added another accolade to a growing list of achievements.

Ford's Jim Farley emphasized the importance of family, social media, social responsibility, and motorsports to Ford's long-term vision during his presentation.

Afterwards, the honored guest speaker who gave the keynote address was none other than Jim Farley, Group Vice President, Global Marketing, Sales and Service of Ford Motor Company.  Farley spoke of the company’s pride in knowing that the Ford Explorer (2011 Truck of the Year) is manufactured in the South Side of Chicago and how the facility brought 1200 jobs to the community.  A strong emphasis on Ford’s openness to “new ideas” and the company’s understanding of “changing priorities” in American society after the 2008 economic downturn underscored Farley’s presentation on the exciting new directions the company is headed.  After listening to “fans” and customers on social media websites like Youtube and Facebook, Ford chose to focus on making the Explorer an automobile for real-life family adventures.   Farley presented a series of commercials in the works and introduced online ad/marketing campaigns geared towards reestablishing Ford as an exciting brand that could help improve the American family’s quality of life.

Farley also discussed the importance of campaigns that place Ford at the community’s doorstep in its long-term marketing strategy.  The “Ultimate Test Drive” was an online promotion in which Ford fans submitted their ideas for the greatest experience one could possibly have behind the wheel of a new Mustang.  The result: a man who lost his sight twenty years ago won the contest and Ford asked champion driver Tom Kendall to ride along with the winner on a drive that moved the blind driver to tears of absolute joy.  Farley cited a statistic by the Edelman Trust Barometer that reveals that only 46% of Americans trust big businesses to do the right thing.  The fact that over 90% of Americans value companies engaged in cause-related marketing was not ignored by Ford, and the company’s support for charities has increased.

In all, social responsibility plays a key role in buying behavior and Ford adjusted its voice to reflect the needs and values

Social media and motorsports form the perfect synergy for Ford's current marketing strategy: Focus Rally America.

of its customers and fans.  Ford is using social media to connect with its customers and fans by creating promotions like the “Ultimate Test Drive” and “Focus Rally America.”  The latter – a reality-based cross-country rally airing on Hulu.com featuring pairs of contestants chosen from a pool of online applicants – is one part of the drive to promote the new 2011 Ford Focus through a synergistic approach to motorsports and social media.  Essentially, this part of Farley’s presentation covered how Ford’s new marketing strategy places more control of its “brand in the people’s hands.  Efforts to become more relevant to Americans are not just apparent, but necessary.  Ford even has three new electric models: the electric Ford Focus, C Max Energi, and Transit Connect electric.

Ah, a moving monument to American motorsports: the Shelby Ford GT350. Wait, we haven't even started talking about Shelby's unveiling yet!

So, what of motorsports?  Jim Farley talked about the new twist Ford is adding to racing, an activity that Farley says some happen to consider “a very traditional advertising medium.”  For example, Ford’s relationship with Ken Block adds a new dimension to the motorsports mantra, “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.”  Block is not only Chief Brand Officer and Founder of DC Shoes, he drove for Subaru’s rally team before becoming the new face of the Ford Fiesta, Ford Focus, and the eco-boost 250 hp Ford Focus ST.  His Youtube videos have “made him a cult hero,” according to Farley.  In fact, a video of Block driving a Focus rally car through a French obstacle course has received 26,000,000 hits in only 5 months on the free video website [WATCH THIS!].  Ford hopes to borrow brand equity from Block’s popularity around the world to help sell the new Focus available in America in a year.  Due to American popular demand, Ford chose to sell its popular European model in the US and keep it as the standard version sold around the world.  While taking questions from the media, the importance of motorsports to product development at Ford was highlighted once more.  Farley brought up the new Ford Mustang Boss 302, a machine “with a new powertrain… a one G lateral car… supercharged and naturally aspirated… [that] harkens back to the era when a pony car could really handle and we didn’t do the project unless [the product development team] said we could beat an M3 at Laguna Seca.”

Finally, in response to a question I asked on the impact motorsports have on product development at Ford, Jim Farley stated that Ford’s “experience in WRC [World Rally Championship] has been fundamental” to the development of the Ford Focus through the Focus RS.  Farley added that the Focus RS’ new differential “came directly from racing and I suspect that as we expand our offerings in small four-cylinder turbocharged sportscars in the US that you’ll see the same kind of connection.”  Clearly, Ford is enhancing the image of the Mustang and its entire brand by challenging import tuners and domestic competitors on the racetrack.

Motorsports, my friends, are a key component of any marketing plan geared to promote cars… plain and simple.

Tomorrow, I will add more about my experience at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show.  Among the topics I will cover are Chevy’s unveiling of the new Camaro and the revolutionary suspension in the ZL-1 as well as the new Dodge Charger.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.


Our good friend Hank, courtesy of Ford Motor Company.

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