Corporations that make consumer products are inherently cautious entities when it comes to their messaging — ever cognizant of the diverse beliefs held by their current and potential customers. Say one thing “wrong” or take a definable stance on a controversial position, and risk triggering the ire of a small but vocal minority. The reaction to Whole Foods CEO John Mackey’s fearless stance against Obamacare is a prime example of the backlash that every company sheepishly chooses to avoid.
But if American brands can be considered cautious, the automotive industry would be thrown in the über section of that classification, which is all the more reason to be stunned by Ford’s new commercial.
It’s called “Press Conference: Chris” and it includes an actual Ford buyer in a press conference fielding questions from a faux press pool. The Ford owner, drawn to a venue under the guise of participating in a focus group, walks into a room full of actors portraying journalists. One fake journalist asks the Ford owner, “Was buying American important to you?” The buyer, with uncommon poise, responds, “I wasn’t going to buy another car that was bailed out by our government.” He goes on to explain his view of what it means to be an American brand — to pick yourself up when you fail and stand on your own two feet.
For many who opine on politics, and others who work in the Beltway, bloviating against the automotive bailout is an act heard ad nauseam and would hardly be considered controversial. But for a consumer products company, and especially an automotive brand, to take this stance is an absolutely astonishing act that should be applauded. Ford’s initial shunning of a bailout was laudable. But going after its competitors for not representing the American way during their time of crisis is the stuff that legends are made of. Brands should not be afraid, when their argument is compelling, to be bold in their communiqué.
Having worked in the automotive space for the better part of a decade I can say, as an eyewitness, that the bailout was the first in a series of devastating decisions that affected American industry. To listen to experts extol the “success” of the policy that supposedly averted millions of job losses has shaken my faith in news punditry. In any industry, changing the goal post by picking winners and losers is a crippling and disheartening activity that directly hurts those employers that were making prudent decisions. What most pro-auto bailout commentators leave out of the discussion are the immeasurable losses that were simply shifted to the ecosystem of their more efficient competitors. Struggling companies and the labor unions that were causing their struggles were rewarded while those winning the race got their gasoline tanks metaphorically siphoned. It’s a fact that, as the owner of a firm that subcontracts to the auto industry, I have directly experienced.
The Ford marketing department deserves the respect of the hardworking American public for producing this commercial. And, as someone who works with Ford’s competitors, I can make this statement with some credibility. Guided by James Farley — its marketing guru who I worked with as he led the Scion nameplate to what would be called “the most successful auto brand launch” in North American history — this Big Three car company exemplifies bravery. Few companies took a pass on the easy money that was being offered to ailing industries, but Ford did just that.
Keep the refreshingly honest commercials coming, Ford. It’s a winning argument on so many levels.
Patrick Courrielche is the owner of marketing firm Inform Ventures, LLC. The opinions expressed in this op-ed are his alone. He can be followed at http://www.courrielche.com.