Portals Rev Up Rich Media for Ford

Ford is turning to rich media ads in an effort to promote its 2003 Ford Expedition sport utility vehicle, and tapping America Online, Yahoo and Microsoft’s MSN for the effort.

The executions, developed by the portals in conjunction with Ford’s agency of record, J. Walter Thompson, continue the messaging of the vehicle’s television spots, which focus on enhancements like redesigned wheels and independent rear suspension. Ads promoting the features ran on the three portals’ home pages starting on Monday, while a follow-up ad will run on Yahoo on Thursday.

Spending was not disclosed in the effort, although Ford said it expects to generate about four billion impressions on behalf of the SUV, which begins shipping this week.

In Monday’s “takeover” execution on Yahoo, copy appearing on top of the portal’s front page content highlights that the vehicle is “Packed with 123 innovations.” Text descriptions of the enhancements begin flying onto the page, faster and faster, eventually covering each other and forming the shape of the Ford Expedition.

Ultimately, the text image becomes a photo of the vehicle, while the SUV’s tag line appears: “The Totally New 2003 Ford Expedition. It has no equal.” The company’s logo and new motto — “No Boundaries” — then materializes, while a rectangle ad appears under Yahoo’s “Marketplace” area, urging users to visit FordExpeditionChallenge.com to register to play a game for a chance to win a new 2003 Ford Expedition, or to click for more information on the vehicle.

On Thursday, a second “takeover” execution will show the silhouetted Expedition. In that ad, a searchlight first focuses on specific product features, then expands to illuminate the vehicle in full color. As with the previous execution, Thursday’s execution then shrinks into the Marketplace position.

In the ad on MSN, a silhouetted Ford Expedition drops onto the page from a small 230×30 banner. The silhouetted vehicle flashes its headlights, showing the copy: “Need an Innovative Idea? How about 123 of them?” The headlights then begin blinking with increasing speed, each time listing a new enhancement. Finally, the car is revealed in a photo, with the vehicle tagline.

The ad then shrinks back into the banner, displaying links to the FordExpeditionChallenge.com game, which was developed by Flipside Network.

On AOL Time Warner’s America Online service, a four-day campaign uses similar themes. In addition, Ford is sponsoring a “Five Star Adventure Vacations” destination in the AOL Travel Channel that will feature outdoor adventures for the active consumer.

The effort marks the second time that the U.S. automaker has run a front-page “takeover” ad on Yahoo, with which it has had an advertising relationship since 1999. Last year, it ran an execution for the launch of the 2002 Ford Explorer that borrowed from elements of the truck’s out-of-home campaign.

“The Internet campaign grabs the viewers’ attention and engages them in features that make Expedition new,” said Rich Stoddart, Ford Division marketing communications manager. “This approach will allow us to reach a wide range of customers and help increase the awareness of this totally new product.”

However, it’s the first time any advertiser has run such an execution on the front page of MSN, which pointed to its technological expertise as a major factor in the sale. According to the portal, turnaround from receiving JWT’s request to final product took about 30 days — a mere fraction of the time required by offline executions.

“We designed a completely new ad with the objective of driving buzz around the new Ford Expedition,” said Joanne Bradford, vice president of MSN Sales at Microsoft. “Swift innovation from a technology standpoint delivered great creativity, and the huge reach of the MSN home page will provide impactive results.”

The effort comes as Ford, the nation’s No. 2 automaker, is in the midst of a rebranding and reorganization initiative after the 2000 debacle involving tires on its SUVs, and amid a bleak overall sales outlook for the Big Three automakers.

In large part, Ford’s turnaround effort hinges on the reinvigoration of its aging product line. Accordingly, the company’s advertising is aiming to spread the word about the new enhancements to its lucrative Expedition brand.

“Ford’s online efforts will help further the reach of the Expedition advertising campaign with innovative online creative approaches,” Stoddart said. “We are building on the already strong Expedition brand, focusing on a few of the features that make the 2003 model stand out.”

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