I'm sitting here tonight trying to make sense of Ford's belief that the Fiesta Movement campaign is an example of the kind of social media that will translate into a successful Ford.
Here's a picture of what it's all about. A video by Parris Harris and Yoga Army, aka Phashion Army.
Fiesta Movement is getting quite the PR push at Ford right now and it'll only get worse as the December LA show draws near, when the Fiesta is actually launched in the US. What's the product? A car that Ford designed in Europe several years ago and launched there in autumn 2008. It hasn't even gone on sale yet in the US - it'll be a 2011 model year car.
This quote from an awesome Clay Shirky article earlier this year (about newspapers but don't worry about that) says why this is flawed, better than I ever can:
"Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven't been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.
When reality is labeled unthinkable, it creates a kind of sickness in an industry. Leadership becomes faith-based, while employees who have the temerity to suggest that what seems to be happening is in fact happening are herded into Innovation Departments, where they can be ignored en masse. This shunting aside of the realists in favor of the fabulists has different effects on different industries at different times. One of the effects on the newspapers is that many of their most passionate defenders are unable, even now, to plan for a world in which the industry they knew is visibly going away."
The reality is that this is what's happening right now in much of the car industry. And I fear it's happening in Ford, too.
Fiesta Movement is an ad campaign - nothing more. The philosophy that ever more "sophisticated" marketing can solve problems. Web-savvy, video-producing creative people will transform Ford's brand image and reconnect it with a new generation. Meanwhile Ford, despite thinking it's had a terrible year, has had a lucky one. Both of its major US competitors have gone into bankruptcy. General Motors and Chrysler are probably fatally wounded.
Let's talk about real stuff - well electric cars, which aren't real yet, but will be soon. Even in a world short on EVs and high on rhetoric, Ford's current global 'electric' product range is weak - the company has one star car - the fantastic Fusion Hybrid - and a scattering of dated Escape and Mariner SUVs. The next generation? Ford has been hanging on the fence about which suppliers to use for a Focus EV – and unless there's a big surprise, we're still in limbo on that and much else as Ford insists the numbers don't add up. We're so, so far, from the car Ford really should build - an electric F150 truck. Parris and Yoga talk about Ford reconnecting with the American psyche. But Americans, beyond a few areas on East and West coasts, don't want small cars. Most of them don't even want cars. They want trucks.
But the guys who design trucks are seemingly sitting elsewhere right now, watching a football game. So cars is the only place where innovation is happening. As GM and Chrysler fade away, Ford's key competition in that zone is now global. And be in no doubt that the global competition is about to become truly formidable. Renault Nissan has the boldest strategy of all - we were there to see Renault blow everyone away at Frankfurt in September, with bold plans for four production pure-electric cars by 2011, and Nissan is deadly serious about its mainstream, mass-market Leaf, due in 2011, and undoubtedly the first global car that will shake the Prius out the tree it's got right now all to itself.
And that's just the start. Volkswagen is doing intriguing things with very efficient diesel vehicles, BMW's Efficient Dynamics strategy makes Ford's new EcoBoost petrol engines look pretty conservative. And that's before we talk about Honda, Toyota or anyone else.
I can't help but think that Ford will default to present Renault Nissan as the crazy radicals, imagining an unrealistic future. When the reality is Renault Nissan are the pragmatists, because they and others have the pieces in place to push ahead. They've forged partnerships with entire countries to roll out electric cars, while Ford is trialing 15 electric Focuses in Hillingdon in North London, and in patches around the US.
Right now Ford is not a global car company. It is a multinational car company - in fact the granddad of multinationals - with different product, management and marketing teams on different continents. And it thinks it can treat customers in different places in different ways. Imagine if Apple did that, fobbing off its American customers with a social media campaign, to launch a product it introduced in Europe over 12 months earlier. Advertising guys, dressing up social media as big change, would get nowhere. Customers would see through it right away.
"Imagine if Apple did that, fobbing off its American customers with a social media campaign, to launch a product it introduced in Europe over 12 months earlier."
Unless we get something better - unless we get genuinely great marketing - Ford faces slow decline. It's a long time since the ad guys alone could create a winning product.Mark Charmer is founder of the Movement Design Bureau. Related reading: