Ford wants the European market to see them differently. Perhaps they could start by being different?
I once watched professional cyclist, Peter Sagan being interviewed during the Tour de France. Asked what would prevent him winning the green (points) jersey in that year’s race, he rather naively replied; “unluck“. In fairness to Sagan, (who’s from Slovakia), he wasn’t speaking in his own language and we all understood what he was getting at. Which brings me to Ford’s new advertising slogan: Unlearn. By definition, in order to unlearn something, we must first undo the process of learning; to rid our minds of previously held orthodoxies and notions.
This is what Uncle Henry wants us to do. To jettison our preconceived ideas of the Blue Oval and see it as the enlightened force for auto-mobility it so clearly is. This was the big idea posited by Ford’s European President, Jim Farley in a recent press conference outlining Ford’s new positioning – the standout aims being to:
Establish a more focused, more emotional lineup
Aim these models at high growth segments
Be more distinctive
Be a brand that people love
Farley’s ambition is to transcend mere motor manufacture and become in their own words, “an auto and mobility company”, saying Ford wanted to “do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans.” To this end, they recently introduced FordPass, a smartphone app which offers users traffic and parking information. Well, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Unlearn features Ford’s new performance ‘hero’ models – the bulk of which interestingly, are American in origin. Yet in order to reach these lofty heights we’ll all need to get out there and buy, lease or otherwise purloin Fiesta’s, Foci and Mondeos in ever increasing numbers, to say nothing of Ecosport’s, Edge’s and ‘Stangs. It’s asking a lot isn’t it?
Ford UK’s marketing manager, Richard Beard explained Unlearn to marketing magazine Campaign recently, saying UK customers are inclined to associate the carmaker solely with family cars. He said; “We want people to think about the Ford brand and move on from some ideas they have. It’s a great opportunity to encourage people to reappraise us.”
So hands up, who loves Fords? Put your hands down Myles – I’ll rephrase that. Who outside of Ford enthusiast circles loves Fords? Thought so. It wasn’t always thus however. Back in the 1970’s when a Cortina 2.0 S with sports suspension, foglights, body-stripes and a blacked-out rear panel represented automotive nirvana, I remember the excitement of seeing a consignment of brand new MK IV’s awaiting dispatch from Ford’s Cork car plant in 1976.
Today, Ford offers little with even that impact – especially upon the young and impressionable. But times and people move on and a new Mondeo Titanium X can no longer be expected to embody a formative experience – our expectations now turn on far greater highs. Enter the hero cars.
What Ford is probably after is what ad-agency Saatchi & Saatchi describe as ‘Lovemarks’, the concept of ‘creating loyalty beyond reason‘. According to Saatchi; “Lovemarks transcend brands. They reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without. Take a brand away and people will find a replacement. Take a Lovemark away and people will protest its absence. You don’t just buy Lovemarks, you embrace them passionately.” Blimey.
Clearly Unlearn cannot achieve all this by itself. So will more crossovers, more Vignale, and less Ka equal more profit for the Blue Oval in Europe? With European registrations for 2015 of 1,039,155 cars – up 8.3% on the previous year and the division showing a small profit for the first time in a decade thanks to some crafty accounting, there’s clearly a lot to be done to become a “brand that prospers in good times and bad”.
Changing perceptions requires a little more than some clever marketing – (which I’m not convinced this is by the way). It requires a fundamental rethink of Ford’s entire European offer. Perhaps one which asks whether European motorists want warmed-over World cars rather than something developed and styled specifically for them back in Merkenich.
The Fords people loved were cars the average customer aspired to, but today they don’t aspire to Fords – particularly the core models on offer now. Both CEO Mark Fields in Dearbourn and Jim Farley in Cologne surely know this as well but lack a credible solution for the simple reason that there probably isn’t one. So throwing money on the fire with window dressing such as this will have to do until they can dream up something more convincing. Meanwhile, as for Unlearn, I wish them unluck.