Ford has become something of a leading-edge purveyor of social-media programs. The Fiesta, Explorer and Focus have all spent at least as much time speeding along labyrinthine social-media routes as they have on the traditional media turnpikes of TV and print.
The automaker's latest, which officially -- if that is the right word here -- launched this week on YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter, promotes the 2012 Focus with a new spokesperson, Doug. Ford introduced Doug Monday at a faux press conference, which lives on the Facebook page of John, a fictive Ford marketer. Doug is a puppet of the handheld variety.
During the streamed news conference, Doug misbehaves, suggests that he's only doing this because he got a free car from Ford, flirts openly with one of the reporters, whom he calls "pretty pants" and generally causes high anxiety among the faux Fords, who wring their hands as Doug is off on a couch with pretty pants, trying to get her to go for drinks. "You're so ... cute," she says.
The series of videos moves on to a just-launched clip showing Doug getting a walkaround of the new Focus. He makes acerbic comments about the side-view mirrors and cap-less gas tank, and how he'd like to smell the female Ford marketer's fingers to see if he can sense an odor of gasoline. Doug is accompanied everywhere by the above-mentioned John the marketer, played by actor John Ross Bowie, per Scott Monty, Ford's head of social media.
Monty says the series was a collaborative project of Ford, its agency group Team Detroit, and the comedy troupe The Upright Citizens' Brigade. It was directed by Paul Feig, who has also directed shows like "The Office," "Freaks & Geeks," and "30 Rock," and also features cast, writers and crew from "The Simpsons," "Comedy Central," "SNL," "Borat," "Finding Nemo" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
The effort was overseen by Ford's lead digital marketing guru, John Beebe. "It's been in development for a while and we have fine-tuned the whole process. As you can imagine, our marketing team and Team Detroit were going back and forth about what the puppet should look like. Believe it or not, we ended up with the prototype, and it just grew on people," says Monty.
The program started with three viral videos that appear to have nothing to do with Ford, and seem to have been uploaded by the puppet himself. They are self-promotional clips showing the puppet stopping a thief and saving someone's life in a bus with CPR. "We seeded those a few weeks ago and have gotten hundreds of views," says Monty, who adds that the effort will continue with paid media integration "over the next few weeks and months."
Monty says that even without promotional muscle, people are finding the video on various social channels. "People are already interacting with Doug on Twitter and Facebook and he's reacting right back," says Monty. As for the story line and campaign endpoint, "we have left some of it open to the natural flow of conversation and interaction, but have a story arc we will follow as well."