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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.