No. 1000
June 12, 2019

About The Autoextremist

Peter M. DeLorenzo has been immersed in all things automotive since childhood. Privileged to be an up-close-and-personal witness to the glory days of the U.S. auto industry, DeLorenzo combines that historical legacy with his own 22-year career in automotive marketing and advertising to bring unmatched industry perspectives to the Internet with, which was founded on June 1, 1999. DeLorenzo is known for his incendiary commentaries and laser-accurate analysis of the automobile business, as well as racing and the business of motorsports. Author. Commentator. Influencer. The Consigliere. Minister of the High-Octane Truth. DeLorenzo is considered to be one of the most influential voices commenting on the business today.

DeLorenzo's latest book is Witch Hunt (Octane Press It is available on Amazon in both hardcover and Kindle formats, as well as on iBookstore. DeLorenzo is also the author of The United States of Toyota.

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By Peter M. DeLorenzo

Detroit. If you were watching football this weekend you had to see at least some of Ford’s new Big Bang advertising campaign on television, which revolves around the theme “Built Ford Proud.” Part internal rallying cry, and part reaffirmation of what Ford is all about and has always been about, this new campaign, by the ad agency Wieden + Kennedy out in Portlandia, is exactly the kind of campaign that resonates with executives, dealers and hopefully, Ford customers.

It’s all about the fact that talk is cheap and that when it comes time to build the products that are needed now and in the future, Ford will be there, just as it has been for the last 115 years. The eminently watchable and likable Bryan Cranston is the presenting spokesperson in the first spots (you can watch the lead spot here -WG), and he comes off well, especially in the very last moment when he’s driving in an F-150 Raptor and says, “So let the other guys keep dreaming about the future, we’ll be the ones building it.”

The campaign is very interesting, for a number of reasons. First of all, Ford has been getting relentlessly hammered by Wall Street and industry analysts ever since Bill Ford Jr. announced that Jim Hackett would be the new CEO. Hackett, by all accounts personable and whip smart, was either an inspired choice or a puzzling one because of his lack auto industry experience, depending how you looked at it. And his performance on analyst calls and meetings didn’t exactly set that cynical world on fire. Why? Because his professorial talks seem to center on platitudes and culture reimagination – two things direly anathema to the Justice League of Super Bean Counters – and the lingering impression was and still is one of puzzlement, especially when analysts wanted to know what was happening at Ford that was worth talking about.

Lately, things have changed on a couple of fronts, as Hackett has upped the ante describing upcoming global workforce reductions and how the product cadence – Ford’s perennial problem – is coming together, but the stock has tanked, and skepticism remains high. So, this new ad campaign is designed partly to mollify the negativity on Wall Street, if that’s possible.

Secondly, Ford has been dancing about its “connected cities” vision – one of Hackett’s favorite topics – suggesting that no matter what happens in the future, Ford will be a part of it. Ford has had its toes in two camps – building what’s needed right now and trying to conceptualize what will be happening in the future – for a long time now, just like most other global automakers. I will say that when this idea is featured in the spot it comes off flat and as a throwaway, what with all the talk of brawny building going on in the rest of the spot. Ford is about to announce major linkups with another manufacturer and new ventures with tech companies, so the company is determined to be part of whatever the future holds, but this new ad campaign is clearly about right now and the next four years from now in terms of new product that’s coming, because that’s going to make or break the company’s bacon. 

But make no mistake, this new campaign is as much an internal rallying cry that plays well at dealer conventions and in executive meetings in Dearborn as anything else. Dealer meetings remain one of the strangest phenomena in the car business, when dealers from all over the country are herded over to Las Vegas to be entertained and, in this case, be reminded why “we” (Ford and its dealers) are there in the first place. There’s talk of business strategy and product, and executives get up and make promises about the future whether they really know what’s going to happen or not, and from all reports the new ad campaign went over like gangbusters. 

And why wouldn’t it? It is exactly what dealers wanted – and Ford makes no bones about the fact that the top dealers had input into it (as if I couldn’t tell). It’s a chest-beating, “We’re Ford and You’re Not” kind of spot calculated to make everyone feel good, and remind them that if Ford and its dealers stay true to who they are and what they believe in and what they do, then that F-150 gravy train – along with other new products (e.g., the Bronco) coming – will never stop.

Finally, this campaign was calculated to resonate with current Ford customers, too, and that is no small thing. Auto manufacturers around the globe are in a hot war to keep the customers they have and not lose them to competitors. And this campaign goes after loyal Ford customers with a ball-peen hammer. I don’t doubt that they will love it.

But whether or not it attracts new customers to Ford is another thing altogether, that’s the giant “we’ll see” that will have to play out. At any rate, kudos to Wieden + Kennedy for this excellent a la carte work (this was a one-shot campaign; BBDO will assume the lead role on the Ford account soon). It’s calculated to be sure, and it plays right into the needy mindsets of executives down in Dearborn who are just craving for a reason to feel good about themselves, but given the parameters, it works. I can almost hear the huzzahs shouted from the rooftops from Dearborn carried far and wide by the chilly winds of fall, as in, “They’re finally telling our story!”

Oh, and one more thing, the use of an instrumental version of “Paint It, Black” by The Rolling Stones in the lead spot was an interesting choice. I hope it is a sly reference to Henry Ford’s penchant for offering any color you wanted back in the day as long as it was black, because it is one of the darkest tracks the Stones ever recorded. As I said, interesting.

And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.

Editor's Note: There's more perspective about Ford's new ad campaign in this week's "On The Table." -WG