Ford has been upping the ante when it comes to getting interest in its vehicles among racing fans, and that doesn't just mean NASCAR. The company has been pitching its Fiesta compact to younger, X-Games fans, who are as likely to wait in line at Hot Import Nights and watch online videos of extreme stunts as queue up for the infield.
Central to its efforts is rally racer and Internet phenom and businessman Ken Block, whose rally-tuned Fiestas co-star in a series of record-breaking YouTube videos called "Gymkhana," referring to the hyperactive racing form that mixes drifting with autocross and is popular overseas and only recently in the U.S.
In the videos, Block -- who used to drive for Subaru -- does figure eights, slaloms, and other moves around obstacles, barely missing them. The videos have him careening around exploding gas tanks and through warehouses, barely missing stanchions. The racer, who is also founder of a DC shoes, which sponsors his exploits and racing team, just released the latest, "Gymkhana three Part 2; Ultimate Playground: L'Autodrome," shot at the Autodrome de Montlhéry facility in France.
The new video shows him doing near-impossible-looking spins and obstacle courses in the new setting that includes a broad banked curve.
Block says he was very surprised that his videos have made him a star. Of the first "Gymkhana" video, he says, "It was me testing and practicing in a car I built for that purpose. When it got 11 million views on my personal site in three months, I had to put it on YouTube because I couldn't afford to run it on my site. I never expected that response."
The second one had 17 million viewers. All told, the "Gymkhana" series of three films have garnered some 30 million views online. "I think we have come up with a formula that showcases 'Gymkhana' and rally in a way that people really enjoy. These are not short 'kid falls on a mountain bike' clips. They are five to ten minutes long. We did it without thinking about viral marketing."
The Fiesta car is Ford's worldwide rally car in both WRC and Rally America starting next year, and the automaker is promoting the car with a new program, "43 Fiestas" that includes national ads. Block appears in one that pairs him with NASCAR legend Richard Petty and driver A.J. Allmendinger.
The 10-week long campaign includes a new website, www.43Fiestas.com, that promotes both the Fiesta and Fusion car with a nod to the number emblazoned both on Petty and Block team Fusions and Fiestas, respectively.
Says Jamie Allison, director of Ford North America motorsports, "We constantly have our antennas up around things happening in the motorsports space," he says. "We wanted to reach out to a new group of customers with Fiesta, a generation of people who are growing up watching action sports and motor sports. Watching the digital space, we saw the video like everyone else and thought, 'Wow, this guy is amazing.' We started talking to him and found he had aspirations to race in World Rally Championship, and Ford was willing to give him an opportunity to race both in America and around the world."
He explains that the 43 Fiesta program was a way to reach NASCAR fans. "We wanted to find a way to cross over, to get Block in front of those fans and vice versa. As luck would have it, they both happened to run with the number 43." The effort will include a series of webisodes on the site, featuring Petty, Block and Allmendinger, and TV spots in which Petty watches Allmendinger do a training run, when suddenly Block pulls up in his rally Fiesta and they wind up racing each other runs on NASCAR broadcasts. In the spot, Block tears off through the infield, doing drifting moves, then screeches back onto the track ahead of Petty's driver.
This relationship also has Allmendinger taking rally racing classes at the Team O'Neil Rally School in Dalton, N.H., where Block learned his skills, and which recently got a gift of 43 rally-tuned Fiestas from Ford. Videos of Allmendinger's exploits will run on YouTube and the 43 Fiestas site."
As for the "Gymkhana" videos that made Block famous, Ford does not foot the bill for those. That's done by Block's company, DC Shoes. "In the skateboard and snowboard market, it is very common to make videos of athletes, so I have taken people who have produced those and had them done in-house at DC, so we don't use an ad agency, we use an outside production agency, but all creative control comes from DC Shoes. "We like to do things at DC that are obviously direct product promotions but we also like to do things that are halo brand promotions. When we saw that so many people were watching, we realized we should put more focus on actually promoting a few products using eye candy of car action to draw people in."