Ford Hail Mary Marketing Effort Goes to the Blogs…Lots of ‘Em

Ford_logo_old.jpgIt wasn’t so long ago that the Blogads network had few if any big corporate advertisers. In the early days, the network was dominated by ads from nonprofits, political candidates and other blogs seeking attention from online information junkies. Granted, these sorts of advertisers still abound on blogs, but it’s no longer a surprise to see a commercial brand advertiser on the pages of the blogosphere.

Now, according to Blogads founder and CEO Henry Copeland, “the most exciting ad to cross Blogads’ servers in our four years of business” belongs to one of the world’s most recognized brands, Ford. As part of the company’s ongoing “BoldMoves” effort to enlist consumers to help the company get back on track, Ford has placed ads on 400 Blogads blogs, according to a Jalopnik post (by way of Steve Rubel’s Micro Persuasion).

In a missive he sent Tuesday to Blogads network site managers. Copeland called the ad “The first Cluetrain ad,” asserting, “Now, down a few billion bucks and peddling gas-guzzlers, Ford has drunk the Cluetrain cool-aid. Eschewing the ‘same old tone, same old lies’ and the ‘soothing humorless monotone,’ this Ford ad celebrates the brutally honest conversations that are essential to its revival. And Ford’s BoldMoves project finds an ideal counterpart in the blogosphere, the great American brainstorm.”

I can’t help but wonder why Copeland has such high praise for this campaign and made such a special effort to alert his network bloggers to it (employing the blogger’s mating call language of cluetrain-ese, no less). He’s a standup guy, so I hesitate to speculate, but the skeptic in me thinks that maybe such a big ad buy was contingent upon him getting the conversation going among the bloggers. Then again, this BoldMoves campaign was tailor-made for blogs, so I’m sure they’d planned on doing the blog ad thing anyway.

Jalopnik, for one, ain’t exactly buyin’ Copeland’s cluetrain contention. He writes, “This is all interesting…and yes, the Bold Moves videos are all about saying stuff other companies aren’t saying — but we kinda thought the Cluetrain Manifesto was all about having ‘real conversations’ between businesses and consumers. We’re not entirely sure it means buying your way onto the page the conversations are occurring.”

I think it’s easy to jab Ford for taking this approach. Sure, Ford is hoping to influence what’s discussed in the blogosphere by standing up and waving, “Hey guys, over here!” via the ads. And, from my perspective, the short films have a vaguely patronizing tone. (The latest mini-flick is all about how great Ford’s hybrid NYC taxicabs are, interspersed with man-on-the-street comments such as, “I haven’t heard anything about what Ford is doing for the environment to be honest” — cut to shiny happy hybrids.)

Another thing: The intro film features execs in a conference room, sleeves rolled up, coffee cups strewn about, spewing terms and phrases straight outta the corporate transparency playbook, like “Rip out the B.S.,” “authentic,” “engage in conversation,” “constructive conflict,” “pullback the curtain.” Oh, and let’s not forget the final statement from one exec, “The American people love the truth and they love an underdog. That’s us.” Somebody should have told that guy the American people love an underdog as long as it doesn’t slap them in the face with the tail that’s in between its legs….

Yeah, OK, Ford’s approach is a tad patronizing.

In Ford’s defense, consider the fact that no matter how hard anybody tries, it seems as though reality shows have deadened the eyebrow-raising factor of anything that’s truthful or gritty to the point where even actual reality can come off as scripted and edited for optimum impact.

These Hail Mary pass-type campaigns are nothing new. It’s as if Ford took the BP-rebranding campaign and slapped a Web 2.0 label on it. Still, those social features are positive components that can, indeed, facilitate discussion. Users have the ability to register to post comments to articles about specific issues, and to easily embed the vids on their own sites, for instance. A forum in which users can initiate their own topic discussions would feel a lot more free and transparent, though.

If anything, the campaign will get people talking about the campaign itself, which can lead to a conversation about Ford, and possibly, in turn, the direction it should take to get its shite together. Already bunches of bloggers are posting commentary about the campaign, prompted by Copeland’s e-mail.

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