Opinion: Will focusing on branded content help put the fun back into Ford?

The automotive manufacturer has drawn up a branded entertainment strategy to coincide with the launch of its latest Focus model as it looks to strengthen its appeal as a trusted car marque.

MAYBE - Martin Runnacles, Managing director, Ultegra Consulting

Fiesta, Focus, Mondeo. All much-admired in the motoring press for cutting-edge design and driving dynamics. Then there's S-Max - a brilliant 'activity' vehicle concept that combines practicality with real style, modernity and fun.

So, what's the marketing problem for Britain's bestselling car brand? In a word - ubiquity. Car-buyers just don't perceive Ford as special.

BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz have maintained a reputation for quality, desirability and exclusivity, even though their combined sales are now virtually the same as Ford's.

Will branded content help Ford spark the imagination? Possibly. What Ford needs to do is encourage potential buyers to re-evaluate the brand.

It's a cliche, but Ford must get people into the cars to drive them. It's reasonable to assume that branded content will appeal to the younger end of the car market - which is fine when targeting the new Focus. However, it needs to motivate them to take action, not just make them smile.

MAYBE - Penny Herriman, Chief executive, WCRS

Branded content can engage audiences, but with so much content to choose from, why would they watch Ford's?

The likes of Sky+ and iPlayer mean we now just watch what we want, when we want it and without the interference of brands. Branded content has to be pretty unique to attract our attention. YouTube kittens, FAILs and double rainbows show how sometimes it's the accidental heroes of homemade content that become the most popular. It's the conversations around the bite-sized, shareable content that matter, not so much the content in itself.

Branded content has to deliver that object of conversation that will not only go viral, but have people talking about it and copying it. Only socially contagious content that strikes a chord with people keeps the conversation going and has real impact on how people feel about a brand.

For branded content to 'put the fun back into Ford' you first have to put Ford into the content without spoiling the fun and then make it something unique and worth talking about.

NO - Tom Knox, Joint chief executive, DLKW Lowe

I'm not sure that 'fun' and Ford is a natural fit. The last time the Ford brand seemed to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of fun was back in the 70s, with the endearingly preposterous Capri. Since then it has been Mondeos and Euro-blandness all the way.

If a Ford is to be 'a car people want, not one they settle for', associating the brand with genuinely entertaining content might be a good idea. It may have ruled out going down the nostalgia route, as per Foster's (Marketing, 18 August), but it should still incorporate some humour.

If it's all about the Focus, there's an opportunity to do something that truly appeals to a family audience. This might help mitigate Ford's advertising and sponsorships, which seem predominantly rather blokey.

In any event, it's good to see Ford is experimenting and looking to do something unconventional. While it may not be able to own 'fun', it could at least be interesting. Whatever market you're brand is in, being the safe, dull option is not a good look right now.

MAYBE - Neil Simpson, Chief executive, Publicis London

Ford has become the master of the beautifully crafted commercial, turning them out with production-line efficiency. However, it doesn't move through the gears like it used to.

So full marks to it for realising it needs to change the conversation. Isn't branded content a horrible phrase, though? It increasingly stands for 'we've made some stuff, and stuck our logo on it'. It's a dead end, not a starting point. With the Renault Megane Experiment, we started by thinking of an enjoyable idea that people can play with, participate in and pass on.

Try not to execute a one-off, but create elements that can be released over a period of time and across platforms. This will convert viewers to followers, and allow them to be part of a conversation. Make the product or service integral to the idea, or at least tightly involved in the storyline. If you don't, you'll only look like a sponsor anyway.


The Marketing Society is the most influential network of senior marketers dedicated to inspiring bolder marketing leadership.


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