Ford Puts Social Media In Explorer's Front Seat


Since the day Ford unveiled the 2011 Explorer in New York last July (versus one of the big auto shows where such things usually happen) with a social-media campaign, the automaker has been going to Facebook to keep the SUV rolling. The Dearborn, Mich. automaker says it has more than 135,000 Explorer fans on Facebook. The company says 75,000 people logged onto the social site on the launch day to see the vehicle roll down a faux mountain road in the middle of New York's Herald Square near Macy's this year.

The latest such effort is an extension of "Explorer Live" on Ford's Facebook page. The site was originally intended to generate real-time responses to customers' questions about the vehicle. Now it has evolved into a viral content platform that still answers specific questions, but also has become a hub for dozens of video responses intended to be both technical and entertaining. Matt VanDyke, director, Ford U.S. marketing communications, states: "The ability to interact with customers and get feedback from them about what they really want from their vehicle allows us to tailor our marketing outreach accordingly."



Eric Peterson, Ford Explorer communications manager, tells Marketing Daily that making dual-purpose content that is both entertaining and informative made sense because of the number of questions coming through the "Explorer Live" Facebook page that followed a theme or echoed each other. "We were getting up to 25 questions a day from Facebook fans with topics ranging from simple and easy-to-answer questions right up to very technical and detailed product questions," he said. "Our response was to come up with a series of different ways to respond."

To do that, Peterson says Ford first tapped product experts. But he points out that such strictly technical responses to product questions have limited mileage both in terms of the purchase funnel and the Web. But if they are entertaining, they can go viral and can appeal beyond the bottom of the funnel where technical considerations around this vehicle or that one are important.

And Peterson says humorous videos give the agency freedom to be creative with a quick turnaround and less pressure to sweat the details. "The nature of it is, you are not having to agonize over every frame the way you do for a 30-second spot that lives forever and gets seen by millions of people again and again. These quick responses give us a way to answer questions and build content at the same time," he says. "People will pass on factual information, but it has to be more engaging if it is going to go beyond a core group who are interested in technology or shopping specific vehicles. We thought we could tackle both shopping and awareness-building through this one platform."

To make the videos appealing to more than that core base of fans and in-market consumers, the company tapped people like former Poison front man and reality star Bret Michaels, Snoop Dogg, Funkmaster Flex, and billiards star Jeanette Lee to star in video responses to Facebook questions. The videos start with those questions and the handle of the person who made the query in supers, and finish with "Next Question?" above an empty text box. In one starring Lee, someone named Nelson asks whether Explorer's rear seats fold completely flat. The video response has Lee -- known in pool circles as "The Black Widow" -- strolling over to the vehicle in stiletto shoes and a tight black dress, and proceeding to do trick shots using the fold-flat rear section of the SUV as a pool surface.

The videos starring Michaels include one in which he demonstrates Ford's MyTouch telematics system by carrying on a slightly salacious conversation with the female-voiced command interface. In another, he talks about the V6 engine in the vehicle using his daughter's two little toy horses to demonstrate the 2 HP difference between the V6 and V8.

Another of the videos with a reality-show feel has the Explorer truck tour rolling up to a building in Jacksonville, Fla., in response to a "Why aren't you coming to Jacksonville?" query. The Ford team takes the questioner by surprise, rolling the vehicle out of the truck and taking him for a test drive.

So far, Ford has done about 40 of the videos, and has 100 in production. Peterson says the company is still answering specific questions in real-time by text, while the videos are made to respond to trends. He says since Ford isn't starting the traditional campaign for Explorer until after the New Year, the Web effort around the Explorer Facebook page builds a base of interest and maintains it. "Even before we revealed Explorer, people were having conversations. After we started revealing pieces of the vehicle, we got more and more questions, so it got harder to answer them all."

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