Innovation. Ideas. Insight.

Endorsements, 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, in today’s world, how do brands and marketers deal with the issues of authenticity and transparency in the area of endorsements.

Bill Sledzik of the Toughsledding blog came in pretty strongly with some opinions on the ‘agents’ Ford has created to support their Fiesta Social Media program. Scott Monty, Ford’s Head of Social Media weighed in and pretty soon we had a lively and open debate. Others took exception to Bill’s viewpoint, but ultimately I think he is raising fair points worthy of discussion.

Endorsement

Consumer advocacy has come a long way and consumers themselves have become a lot more savvy.  It’s tough for brands to do spots like these anymore:

You and I both know Charlie Hustle got paid to say that, but at the time that was considered a perfectly legitimate – and effective – way to move product.

Several years ago, Sex in the City star Kim Cattrall was in the middle of a firestorm for a Nikon endorsement that got a little out of hand.

Consumers are now savvy enough to see behind the curtain and they understand how these things work. In fact, many programs now state that their next guest is in fact a paid spokesperson for a company.  Watch an episode of Saturday Night Live when someone like Mike Myers or Steve Martin hosts. During their monologue they’ll often plug their movie (after all, that’s why they are hosting the show) with a wink and a nudge. They know you know why they are hosting, so why pretend otherwise.

Fiesta Movement: Authentic & Transparent

Fiesta Movement: Authentic & Transparent

In the case of the Ford Fiesta Movement program, I recognize that the agents are being given the vehicles, along with insurance and gas money. I simply factor that in to my reading of their content.

Authenticity

I think the Ford ‘agents’ would do more damage if they produce content that is forced and overly enthusiastic than if they published constructive criticism. Reading, “It drives like a combination of a Ferrari and a Rolls-Royce” lacks credibility. But if one of the ‘agents’ were to write: “It’s been three months, and the initial thrill has worn off. It’s a decent car and with a couple of tweaks I would put it in my consideration set,” that’s information that I would file away for later were I in the market.

Scott Monty - Keeping it real.

Scott Monty - Keeping it real.

But Ford scores authenticity points on another level as well. By hiring Scott Monty they immediately positioned themselves as credible, at least in the Social Media space. Scott has worked hard over the years to create value for the Social Media / Marketing industry. Take a look again at the comments left by Scott Monty. He was direct, honest and didn’t back down. Agree or disagree, you have to respect that.

Transparency

Another key component here is that Ford has done a good job of pulling aside the curtain. They’ll tell anyone who will listen how they’ve set this program up, and what they are hoping to achieve. Ultimately we’ll have to see what their response will be to the inevitable negative content, whether it be warranted or not. How will they deal with a rogue ‘agent’? How will they deal with press or other consumers who challenge both the program and the vehicle?

For more consumer commentary on the Fiesta Movement program, check out the search.twitter feed.

  1. As the one who took the beating last night, I can’t disagree with a word of your post, Rick. In fact, this line was pretty much the theme of my class today:

    “Take a look again at the comments left by Scott Monty. He was direct, honest and didn’t back down. Agree or disagree, you have to respect that.”

    In class, we ran through the post comment by comment to show how a company focused on the social media space handles conflict. Scott responded quickly, defending his company and his program aggressively. As a result, what might have been a prolonged dust-up was defused in about 2 hours.

    Scott and I still disagree on the “authenticity” issue and probably always will. But we’ve exchanged cordial messages through other channels, and now we move on. The discussion provided a teachable moment for my class today, Rick. So thanks for helping me do my job.

  2. Rick you made one point that I thought was particularly important to consider, and one that I think Bill is not giving quite enough credit towards, “Consumers are now savvy enough to see behind the curtain and they understand how these things work.”

    Customers DO know that bias is real- bias is everywhere, and anyone who knows what the definition of bias is will be able to tell you that bias is 100% unavoidable and unfilterable. Bias is going to be apparent anywhere that a human makes a decision as peoples’ opinions are formed from the experiences from their lives- there are simply too many variables to track everything and know where an opinion or action comes from.

    But let’s get back to the original point- something that I think is very simply, and really puts this entire topic to rest in my opinion- Ford DID NOT at ANY point make a claim that the Fiesta Movement was all about finding out what a measly 100 people thought their Fiestas.

    Ford didn’t make that claim because anyone with any type of marketing background could tell you that it’s bigger than that- it’s simply about product awareness and getting the word out there. So far The Fiesta Movement has EASILY had thousands of articles and blogs written about it- maybe a handful were user reviews.

    Bill, I hate to beat up on you any more (You’ve been a good sport!), but did you actually look at the 100 agents chosen? I would say an easy 50% or more had online followings of 5,000 people or more (some 65,000 +!). This further illustrates the point- Ford is making this a “big picture” event- they want to spread general knowledge, pictures, and experiences about the car to massive audiences through a different channel.

    Please find me ONE please on http://www.Ford.com or http://www.FiestaMovemement.com where Ford or its marketing groups made a point of claiming that this movement was going to be great because we would be getting feedback from 100 people (let alone claiming it was unbiased). Good luck…

    Agent, Mark Kleis

  3. Yes, Mark. I looked at the agents, and I see why Ford chose them. You all fit the demographic for this car and all are active in the SM space. That’s a pretty basic marketing decision. How exactly one measure “social vibrancy” is a crap shoot, but I’m not sure it matters.

    As for your claim that Ford “DID NOT at ANY point make a claim that the Fiesta Movement was all about finding out what a measly 100 people thought their Fiestas,” you might want to refer back to Scott Monty’s comment in the previous post:

    Scott said: “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.”

    Let me close with one piece of advice, Mark — one I learned, ironically, from a car salesman many years ago: You’ve made your point. Don’t oversell it.

  4. You

    Luckily for me Bill, “You’ve made your point. Don’t oversell it” I have you to make my points for me.

    To quote you, “Scott said: ‘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.’ ”

    Ok, so you are agreeing with Scott in this case then? Because what Scott said would only make sense if the agents were to be providing NEGATIVE feedback, right? Sure doesn’t seem to make sense that Ford would “make changes” based on POSITIVE feedback, now does it?

    I think that about settles it- at least you too realize that the agents are capable of making negative feedback.

    Mark

  5. Breathe Mark, breathe…

  6. I’m good buddy… I’m sipping from a margarita, pimping my sombrero, and having a Fiesta!

    I could do this all day long in my sleep- it’s a piece of cake when you’re right and just explaining the truth.

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