Ford Easing Off Sync Accelerator, Focusing On Innovation

by , Apr 22, 2008, 5:00 AM
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SyncFord has been selling Sync, an in-vehicle entertainment and communications system co-developed by Microsoft since last fall. The technology, which lets people operate digital media players and Bluetooth-enabled mobile phones via voice commands or steering wheel buttons, has buffed Ford's image and more than doubled sales of those vehicles that have the technology.

Speaking at last week's Association of National Advertisers' marketing conference in New York's Times Square, John Emmert, Ford Sync marketing manager, said this year the company will dial down its broad awareness campaign. "It will be more tactical," he said. Ford says it sold over 30,000 cars with Sync in three months after launch, and is likely to sell 1 million Sync units by early next year.

"Our bright spots are Focus, with sales up 23% last year," said Emmert. "And anyone who has seen an ad for Focus knows how closely we have linked Ford and Sync, that the marketing around Focus connects back to Sync."

Ads for Focus/Sync actually began with a music-centric campaign in 2007, in which the 2008 Focus was upstaged by Sync in web ads as much about music and mobile-device lifestyle as it was about cars. It featured TV ads in which consumers are so accustomed to using voice commands that they use them in inappropriate and embarrassing situations.

Ford's exclusive access to the software Microsoft developed to run Sync ends in early 2009, at which point Microsoft will be free to shop the platform to other automakers, Though Emmert said the Sync name stays with Ford, he conceded that in three to five years most automakers will have something like it. "This will probably be sort of a standard feature, like air conditioning, but there will be ways to insulate ourselves." He said innovation will be the key.

Later this year, the company will add Sync to the rest of Ford, Lincoln and Mercury vehicles. It is also adding a free program, "911 Assist," which automatically calls emergency services in case of an accident. Also coming to Sync is Vehicle Health Reports, in which Sync does diagnostics on different vehicle components and sends the info to Ford via the car owner's phone (through a 1-800 number). Ford will analyze the data, and the customer can access the diagnosis via email.

"The vision I have and that I am trying to evangelize is that we have to innovate," said Emmert. "There are so many things we can do and we will continue to be one step ahead of the competition. If we do our jobs right, Sync will be the benchmark by which [competitive systems] are compared."

Emmert added marketing for the Sync program is being handled ad hoc at Ford: There's no full-time team devoted to marketing Sync. "Nobody at Ford has Sync as a full-time job except me. Same is true on the agency side; we used a sort of ad hoc combined team: JWT, planners were from Ogilvy, Wunderman handled digital, and Y&R did creative and multicultural." Omnicom's Tremor has just launched a word-of-mouth campaign.

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