Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Ford creates a Social Media Movement with Fiesta

In Ideas, Innovation on April 8, 2009 at 9:12 am
The Ford Fiesta, coming in 2010

The Ford Fiesta, coming in 2010

I’m not a “car guy” and I don’t follow the situation in Detroit super closely, but from a Social Media perspective at least, Ford seems to be doing things differently, taking risks and making a genuine effort to change the perception of the company by engaging consumers in new and innovative ways.

Yesterday they kicked off what they call Fiesta Movement. In a nutshell, they are giving a Ford Fiesta (which will be available in the U.S. sometime in 2010) to 100 people so they can test drive it for six months. Ford is even throwing in the insurance and gas I believe.  That’s a massive program with some serious logistics involved.  The kickoff yesterday in New York involved test drives on the streets of Manhattan and an early evening Tweetup at Nero.

Ford, to use a football term, was ‘flooding the zone’ on this one, with Scott Monty, Ford’s Social Media guy; Rohit Bhargava of Ogilvy PR; and the gang from Undercurrent (Julia Roy, Bud Caddell with additional support from Mike Arauz) all pushing this thing forward. That a lot of horsepower.

(L-R) Rohit Bhargava and Scott Monty at the Ford Fiesta Tweetup

(L-R) Rohit Bhargava and Scott Monty at the Ford Fiesta Tweetup

 

The results? PSFK was very positive in their review of the Fiesta, and The Wall Street Journal gave the campaign a lengthy write-up. The chatter on Twitter was overwhelmingly positive from what I saw.

I’m intrigued to see how this goes, especially the content generated from the 100 ‘agents’ who have been given Fiestas. They’ll be posted videos to YouTube, using Flickr and blogs as well to tell their stories. 100 people for six months will generated a massive amount of content that will be (ideally) interesting to consumers, but should also yield incredibly valuable data for Ford.

As Social Media platforms are adopted by more and more consumers (and brands) it will be more difficult for marketers to stand out. Ford is wisely hedging their bets by producing a massive amount of content. I’m sure they realize that some percentage of the 100 won’t produce compelling content, but if four or five do, that could be enough.  If the program is ultimately successful, I think you’ll see more companies adopt this ‘saturation bombing’ technique, and some won’t do it as well as Ford/Ogilvy/Undercurrent.

  1. Everywhere I turn, writers are calling Fiesta Movement a “risk” by Ford. It is anything but.

    By offering a free car, free fuel and free insurance to 100 bloggers, Ford has effectively co-opted the message. The moment these new-media influencers took the booty, they became paid shills. Don’t look for many to bite the hand that feeds. This year a Fiesta. Next year a Lincoln?

    It’s a great marketing campaign, but it’s a long way from the authentic social media that so many who are driving these cars have long espoused. I hope Ford pulls it off, as we all need for the company to succeed. But I’m not gonna be listening to a word these “agents” say — not a word. They sold their souls for a set of wheels that they don’t even get to keep.

  2. Wow. I’m sorry you feel that way, Bill. But if you think – for one second – that Ford is telling these people what to say or that we’re only looking for glowing reviews, I want some of what you’re smoking.

    The fact of the matter is that Ford is letting people have access to this vehicle and is encouraging them to talk about whatever they want, however they want. We’re collecting feedback from them, looking for ways to improve the driving experience before this car comes to North America. The car doesn’t launch for another year, so we have an opportunity to make changes to it. We’re going to get their input on all sorts of things as they – one of the key target audiences for this model – get a chance to put it through its paces here in the States. We *want* to know what they think, and we have stressed the importance of *complete honesty* above all else – because we want the truth, and because their readers & viewers will be able to tell if it’s not genuine.

    We will in no way edit, censor, or delete anything that comes across as negative. We’re using this as an opportunity to learn from our customers, engage in dialog, and let them talk about it in their own way. So yes, that’s a risk.

    I’d imagine you’ve read a number of automotive reviews in your time – from newspaper reporters, trade journalists, bloggers, etc. They had time behind the wheels of our vehicles, usually a week at at time. By your assertion above (that Ford provides a free car, free gas, free insurance), those journalists are “paid shills” that have “sold their souls.” They’ve just sold a smaller portion of it, since they drove the cars for longer.

    It’s too bad you don’t have an open mind about this, as it has the potential to be a great case study – something that I would have thought that you could appreciate as an academic.

    Scott Monty
    Global Digital Communications
    Ford Motor Company

  3. It is a great case study, Scott. And a brilliant piece of marketing. I tip my hat to you.

    But it’s also a case for one of my other classes — the one that focuses on ethics. And it does raise some ethics issues.

    I didn’t say, nor do I believe, that Ford would ever attempt to influence or censor these “agents.” As a social media veteran, I’m certain you know better. But the acceptance of such a valuable gift calls into question whether those who write about the Fiesta will do so freely and without bias. You believe they will. I do not. As I said in my first comment, we don’t tend to bite the hand that feeds, even when told it’s OK to do so.

    I’m sorry you think I’m somehow closed-minded on this issue. I assure you I am not. In fact, I’m open-minded enough to see both sides of of it. It’s part of my job.

  4. Bill, I’ll raise the point about car reviews again: why aren’t automotive journalists considered “paid shills”? Why aren’t they biased?

  5. Journalists borrowing a car for a few days to write a review also raises some ethical issues, Scott. I know it’s a common practice in the biz, a cozy arrangement I learned all about during my time in Detroit.

    But a few days of free transportation vs. a six-month free ride is hardly the same thing. Your “agents” are getting a significant bit of payola, and that calls into question their ability to be objective.

    To Ford’s credit, you have disclosed what the agents are getting. I applaud that. But it doesn’t change the fact that the channels of communication are just a bit tainted as a result. I can see we aren’t going to agree on this, but that’s my 2 cents.

  6. I guess I’m a little stymied here, Bill. Not sure how else reviewers could get access to our vehicles for the sake of reviewing them.

    As to your claims of payola, I respectfully and vehemently disagree. We’ll see how the program turns out. But I wonder if you’ll give any negative reviews of the vehicle as much skepticism, or if your bias is skewed only against people who like our product.

  7. Bill,

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, though I do know Scott and am sympathetic to his position. But what do the agents have to gain by providing ‘false positives’? Ford hasn’t promised to let one agent keep their car if they produce the most positive stories. Nor have they been warned that negative stories will result in the termination of the deal.

    I’d argue that an agent who produces well thought out criticisms has more to gain, and is probably more valuable to Ford, than one who blindly parrots Ford’s talking points.

    As someone who will be looking to read the agents’ reports, I do so understanding the deal and will read them with a full understanding of where these people are coming from.

  8. I’m playing devil’s advocate here, Rick. It’s something I learned in a long PR career — some of it spent in the auto biz in Detroit.

    I’m just saying that if you receive substantial consideration in exchange for rendering an opinion, then that opinion is going to lose some of its authenticity. This Web 2.0 game is said to be built on transparency, after all, at least if you buy the who Cluetrain thing.

    To your question, the “agents” have nothing to gain from false positives. And I’m not criticizing any of the agents for joining the campaign. But because of the gift they have accepted, I must view them as advocates, not objective participants. And their gratitude toward Ford will very likely bias the outcome. It’s human nature.

    As to Scott’s point, I’m happy to glad to look over both the positive and the negative reviews and look forward to following his updates of the campaign. I suspect a lot of people will like the Fiesta because it’s a great car. Ford can be proud of it’s track record for quality. Hell, I said that months ago. Run a Twitter search.

  9. Well, won’t this be fun to watch? I will be very interested in what these 100 agents, or “paid shills,” have to say, *especially* after reading all of the above. (Thanks for twalerting your Twitterverse, Bill.)

    Rick’s point, above, could not be more apt: any criticisms whatsoever made by those participating will be perceived with heightened credibility. How Ford responds — from shrugging off negatives to responding, explaining or changing — will be telling. Therein lies opportunity. In fact the worst that could happen to Ford is to have a bunch of vanilla “I love it” tweets, status updates and videos — which is how I read Bill’s view on what is likely to happen.

    As for the ethics issues, are they so egregious that the entire campaign is without merit? I think not. So a few people sold they’re souls for free wheels for six months. The issues here are known and will be transparent.

    In the end, Ford will do well to resist any effort to try to control or spin any messages during this period — beyond doing their best to ensure the full disclosure of the terms of this devil’s deal. How the automaker presents and synthesizes data and communications will be worth paying attention to.

  10. I’ll add my two cents, if you don’t mind. My name is Mark Kleis, and I am one of the 100 agents that was chosen to drive and live with a Fiesta for 6 months.

    Being as that I am a business major in my final semester at SDSU (a respected and fairly well ranked business school), and also taking Ethical Issues in Business as I write this, I have to wholeheartedly disagree that this Fiesta Movement is causing ethical issues. Ford is not claiming to have 100 people to review their vehicles without first mentioning extremely clearly they are indeed getting the cars, gas, and insurance for free. Ford is also not asking any of us to say anything that is not true.

    In fact, it’s the opposite! Sam De La Garza directly told some of us (on film!) that not only do they not intend to censor us, they want us to be brutally honest. Now, granted, I see your point that some people may feel a sort of obligation to “return the favor,” but again, Ford is being very upfront about the situation, so there is no ethical issue here.

    What do you want Ford to do? Find 100 people that are willing to pay for a 6 month lease to review an exclusive car that isn’t even available yet? Do you not think they too would even feel a special obligation to “pay Ford back” for letting them lease a car no one can buy?

    Better yet- maybe Ford should just do what 95% of commercials do… hire actors to stand in front of the cars and read scripts- would that be better? Or what about having a magazine that has paid advertisements write some reviews? Welcome to the real world Bill, there is going to be a chance for bias regardless of how a product is marketed- it’s life! Every person and media outlet in the world (run by people) will have bias- people just need to learn to use a little common sense and turn on their filters.

    I’m sorry Bill- but it just sounds to be that you simply have an axe to grind and are being stubborn about doing so. The Fiesta Movement is a fun, new, creative social and advertising experiment that isn’t intended to, nor was it ever claimed to be built around getting people to provide honest feedback about the car. The point of the Fiesta Movement is to try and generate buzz- buzz from every media outlet possible (like this site), and to get people talking.

    At the end of the day do you really think that the comments from 100 people that are almost entirely unqualified as automotive experts are the main objective of Ford’s marketing department on this project? If you do, I am afraid you may be mistaken.

    It’s viral marketing 101… Ford just wants buzz, the reviews and feedback are just a small added bonus…

    Agent Mark Kleis, signing out

    By the way, I am an unapologetic Ford fan and current owner, and proud American. If you think that will taint my reviews, well then I guess you won’t need to use my links…

    http://twitter.com/mark_kleis
    http://profile.to/markkleis/
    http://www.youtube.com/Lumadar

  11. I think we’ve covered the range of issues, gentlemen. Not much more for me to add, but I will respond to Mark and Steve.

    To Mark: You have summed it up well. This is a viral marketing campaign designed to create online buzz. The spokespersons are not actors or celebrities like those we see in TV ads, but everyday folks. But let’s be clear, it’s still advertising and the “agents” involved have been converted to advocates. The last sentence in your comment shows that you’re on the team, and I would expect you to be. Thus my point: I don’t see a lot of risk here on Ford’s part. But we’ll know more in 6 months.

    To Steve: There are no ethical breeches here that I see, just grey issues worthy of examination. Ford has disclosed its arrangements with the “agents.” My concern is for those who see the “agent” reports pop up in their searches in the months ahead. Will they understand the context? Will they know it’s just viral marketing?

    Back to Mark: It’s important you know that I have NO axe to grind with Ford. I’ve owned a few in my life, and worked on quite a few more back in my grease-monkey days. But for some reason I feel compelled to disclose that I don’t drive a Ford. I have no dog in this fight. I’m just an educator trying to examine social media from a critical perspective. Result is often a great debate like this one. Thanks to Rick for letting me be part of it.

  12. […] Authenticity and Transparency In Insight on April 9, 2009 at 10:23 am My Ford Fiesta post from yesterday kicked off a great debate that I think is worth further exploration. Specifically, […]

  13. Excellent discussion here. I may have a solution here. Why not make the “agents” anonymous? Have them set up fake Twitter or Facebook accounts (e.g., Agent1, Agent2 etc.). Ford gets what it wants – unbiased feedback on the Fiesta; Agents get what they want – ability to critique without being called “paid shills.” Let’s sing it: Kumbaya my lord, kumbaya…

  14. I’m struggling to find the difference here between what Ford is doing and what Molson, for example, did with the Blogger 2.0 initiative. Sure, they gained plenty of ground with the folks they were giving free product to – who the hell is going to have a problem with free beer, or a free car?- but are they engaging in good blogger relations? The answer is no.

    What you’re not getting, Scott, is that this is not what social media is about. How can we possibly gauge the opinions of these 100 folks? Who is going to negatively promote being given a free car? The minute they received this blogola, the test group became Ford spokes persons, not users and/or potential critics. A much better move would’ve been to take the pulse of 100 Ford Fiesta owners (i.e. those who actually paid for the vehicle) and tracked their comments in the social media space.

    This isn’t truth; this is bribery.

  15. Hi there, another Fiesta Agent would like to chime in. While I think it’s fair to debate the marketing strategy behind the Movement, I do not think it’s fair to suppose why the selected agents have signed on. I can say personally that I have not been converted into a Ford advocate, nor have I sold my soul in some devilish campaign against humanity. (That’s just ridiculous.)

    Our own reasons for auditioning are simple: we think Americans need to be exposed to smaller cars. What better way to get them thinking about them than to toss a few into the mix? And we own our own business in Michigan and most of our customers are related to the auto-making industry. If they fail, we fail. I’m 50/50 on the bailout subject, but Ford not taking one is something everyone should applaud, fellow business owner or not. A company that takes initiative in an honest and fun way is something we should get behind, no matter what the product. Should we be skeptical? Of course. But time will tell. Giving it the thumbs down before it’s even begun is a tad presumptuous, don’t you think?

    As for me, I plan to be honest and fair as an agent, but with respect to my internet audience. I wonder if viewers will think I’m a Ford puppet simply because I choose not to deliver my opinions in a vulgar way, i.e. giving the Fiesta the finger, throwing diapers at it, or some such nonsense.

    In my experience, if you love something, people think you’re biased. If you hate it, they think you’re informed, which is a sad reality. As for me, I’m a pros and cons girl. Everything has pros and cons, and the Fiesta Movement is no exception. Will there be agents who fawn over the car despite its flaws? Yes. Will there be those who are too harsh on it? Maybe. But I think for the most part, we all auditioned to be a part of something new, something classy, something original, and above all, something FUN. To presume that Ford is a puppet-master and the agents are sell-outs before their videos have emerged is the epitome of unfounded bias.

  16. Guhmshoo-

    To answer your question, making people anonymous would completely and entirely defeat the purpose of the entire Fiesta Movement.

    Huh? What? But I thought it was about getting honest feedback from a measly 100 people!?

    Wrong! That’s my point entirely! The reason Ford chose the 100 agents they did was NOT because they thought they would be sure proof positive reviewers, it was because of their “social vibrancy” (Translated: their massive online [or otherwise] followings that will channel to a larger audience than 30 facebook friends).

    Ford is looking at the big picture here, NOT for feedback from 100 people.

    If Ford was looking for some nifty feedback from 100 people that they could turn around and use in commercials why would they have made such a big deal about spreading the word?

    Why pick people based on existing followings?

    Why not just pick 100 Ford fans?

    In fact, on the Ford Focus forums I belong to people are whining left and right that Ford picked a bunch of people that “don’t deserve it” and they are making claims like “this will come back to get them” because they think the crowd chosen was [for the most part] NOT loyal, and instead picked due to their large followings.

    Duh! That’s the point!

    Brandon-

    I hate to make someone post the dead horse picture… so I guess just read what I wrote to guhmshoo- I think that about sums it up.

    I don’t see why people are so fixated on thinking Ford is out to create some massive conspiracy and pool the wool of the eyes of the world in some master minded evil plan.

    It’s just a cool, smart, cheap way [one more reason Ford is doing better than their Detroit rivals- they are smarter] to spread news (ANY NEWS!) about a neat car they are bringing to market.

    Agent, Mark Kleis

  17. As a car enthusiast, I have begun to watch this with great interest. I don’t fall in the target customer demographic for the Fiesta, nor would I necessarily be the most effective social networking user (still trying to figure out Twitter at this point!).

    I actually see this arrangement as somewhat of a customer focus group but in a more visible and accessible form. I have owned cars from GM, Ford, Chrysler, Nissan, and Mitsubishi over the last 22 years. I have been eager to see how much more consumers could get into the loop of product development in such a way they would have greater influence. It seemed that a lot of that consumer influence is after the sale – service or usability complaints that result in changes for the next refresh or the long-time loss in market share for the US-based manufacturers because of these concerns.

    I cannot imaging any car evaulation that does not contain some element of bias. I hear many, many friends talk about their particular vehicles on the basis of their experience with very few manufacturers. They’ve bought repeatedly because of perception from word-of-mouth or ownership experiences from many years earlier. Cars are not a frequently purchased item for many people, thus, overcoming bias is no small feat.

    I applaud Ford for taking a risk. I want to see what people will say and how that works its way into the product development process. That is a larger measure of success, in my mind, of this arrangement.

  18. […] Ford Fiesta post from yesterday kicked off a great debate that I think is worth further exploration. Specifically, […]

  19. […] marked the same night, with Ford announcing its intention behind the Fiesta Movement, a new program providing about 100 digital influencers with Ford […]

  20. I am trying to use 1.05. However step three is bringing me to files on my computer to download not flickr. is there a fix for this?

  21. […] the new FORD Fiesta.  The spirited debate started here on this post and following comments over @ EyeCube around the ability for FORD’s test drivers or “agents” as they are being called, […]

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