American Marketer


Ford borrows a better idea to get closer to customers

October 2, 2014

Jeff Hasen Jeff Hasen


By Jeff Hasen

In the late 1960s, Ford’s advertising proclaimed that the automaker had “a better idea.” During Advertising Week, the company admitted that its mobile learnings have come in large part from others.

This is hardly a bad thing. As was said more than once during a frenetic week of marketing and advertising conferences across Manhattan, a good thought can come from anywhere. Ford is wise to look outward as well as inward.

“Ford is where Facebook was when it pivoted to mobile,” Jim Farley, executive vice president of global marketing, sales and service at Ford Motor Co., said at the Mobile Marketing Association’s SM2 Innovation event. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

Mobile engine of growth
Ford is hardly a newbie in mobile. In fact, an unsexy text messaging initiative more than three years ago that added an SMS call to action to traditional media yielded an eye-opening 15.4 percent lead conversion.

In that instance, in much larger numbers than expected, consumers who texted in to get the loan rate in their local area consented to be contacted by a dealer close by. That campaign stands out for me. I, for one, would say “no” 1,000 times in a row if asked if I wanted to field a call from a car dealer.

Still, it was striking at this week’s show when Mr. Farley said, “We are so far behind our customers' use of mobile.” That, in part, can be explained by the long planning cycles that occur with the carmakers.

Ford shared the stage with Facebook. Each spoke of mobile’s growing importance, and the coming of more personalization.

Forty percent of Ford’s Web traffic comes from mobile. Mr. Farley said that much of it comes from prospective buyers walking car lots after hours. Further, he said that 29,000 cars were sold last year through the mobile Web site.

Mr. Farley said that the big opportunity resides in our ability to “talk to each customer.” But he warned the audience members that with that comes “a higher burden and standard of excellence for marketers.”

To illustrate the importance of creating a dialogue with customers and prospects, Mr. Farley said that transactions come second behind creating “a more meaningful relationship with our customers.” Coming soon is an owner application to assist in accomplishing that goal.

Heart of the matter
Here are some other moments that I will remember from the MMA event and the Mobile Media Summit that preceded it:

We have known for a long time that one of the holdout groups in the migration to mobile marketing has been the agency creative.

“The creative magic is in the context,” said Jaime Robinson, executive creative director at Pereira & O’Dell. “It freaks creatives out because we don’t know how to deal with it.

“Mobile is not a one-way broadcast – it’s a two-way conversation,” she said.

Ms. Robinson said that marketing has lived in the same “box” for decades.

“When you change the box, what the hell do you do with it?” she asked. “But creatives are starting to understand it.”

The MMA shone a bright light on the so-called Internet of Things.

But Richard Ting, R/GA’s executive vice president and global executive creative director of mobile and social platforms, cautioned against spending large marketing dollars at this point.

“The very definition of mobile is still in flux,” he said. “The Internet is moving beyond laptops, desktops and mobile. Billions of devices, artifacts and accessories will be networked, but we’re still in the early days.”

Mr. Ting advised us to look at history and to certain companies for advancement.

“Just like they did with the Internet, the big platform providers are laying the groundwork for the Internet of Things,” Mr. Ting said.

Fresh off a rebrand of his Clear Channel to iHeartMedia to reflect his company’s transformation, chairman/CEO Bob Pittman forecasts another morphing that will affect us all.

"I don't think we'll be in a world of impressions and ratings,” he said. “We'll be in the world of ROI. We’ll make more money giving them (advertisers) ROI.”

We will be wise to follow Mr. Pittman’s wisdom. As I heard more than once in New York this week, the only thing that matters is sales.

Jeff Hasen is founder/president of mobile consultancy Gotta Mobilize, Seattle. Reach him at