Ford Won't Skimp On Marketing, But May Shift Mix

Ford's ongoing turnaround efforts won't include skimping on advertising next year. A top executive for the company's flagship brand said marketing outlays will increase in 2007, although the media mix might shift gears.

Although calling increased marketing investment "counterintuitive" while in recovery mode, John Felice, the general marketing manager on the Ford brand, said Tuesday that the company will continue to spend "heavily" in the area--though it will be "placing more bets on emerging technology."

"When business gets tough, typically in some places [advertising is] viewed as a variable expense," Felice said. "We have continued to invest." In 2005, Ford Motor Co. was the country's sixth-biggest advertiser, spending $2.4 billion, according to Advertising Age. Felice did not disclose how much Ford would boost spending in 2007.

Spending increases in 2006 and the planned jump in 2007 are a core strategy of Ford Motor Co.'s "Way Forward" revitalization plan, Felice said. And that holds for both Ford and the Lincoln Mercury fleets.

The Ford brand launched a TV-heavy "Bold Moves" campaign, headlined by pop star Kelly Clarkson in May.

But Felice, speaking at a Bank of America auto conference, echoed what top executives at other top-10 advertisers have noted: TV is no longer a must-use medium.

"You have to look much more broadly ... the days of running a 30-second commercial on three major networks are over," he said. "It's still a very important element of your marketing mix, but it's much more broad, much more deep, much more integrated and experiential. Having alliances that make sense for that target consumer and activating those alliances is all part of the marketing platform."

In that vein, Felice said the launch of the crossover Edge includes Ford's largest dollar commitment to date in the digital realm. Targeting a younger, more A-county consumer, he mentioned media options, such as VOD, cell phones and gaming, as well as user-generated content and YouTube.

When it comes to experiential marketing and alliances, Ford sponsored summer tours by Clarkson and country star Toby Keith. Ford also has a major integrated presence on Fox's "American Idol" that's expected to resume in January.

Commenting on the Fusion sedan that is already established on the market, Felice said the company will continue to support it--breaking with one industry tradition calling for a focus on new vehicles.

"The days of launch and abandon products are over," he said. "You just can't do it in the marketplace."

Fusion is "a great product that's had great consumer response," he said, with a story to be told via advertising to propel a growth spurt.

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