Ford Leads The Way For Influencer Marketing

As I’ve previously blogged, I get a charge out of the Fiesta Movement, Ford’s nontraditional campaign to promote its new subcompact car. Not because it’s innovative, although it’s undoubtedly a departure for the automotive category. I admire it precisely because it’s not groundbreaking in the truest sense. It’s something better.

The Fiesta Movement is a great example of  a simple idea and a classic public relations strategy – influencer marketing – adapted to the age of the social Web.  And, it’s a template for how a multi-platform social media campaign should be done. By offering cars to 100 carefully selected heavy users of social media, and letting their “agents” market the car for them, Ford has proven that social media can sell cars.

The company’s been very forthcoming about the results of the first six months of the movement. It’s already racked up 6000 pre-orders well in advance of the subcompact’s US launch. What’s more, it’s ignited interest among 100,000 more prospective customers. Those may not be huge numbers, but for a category like this one, in a year like the one we’ve just had, it’s pretty powerful. And it’s proof that social media can drive brand engagement as well as actual sales.

As Ford’s Scott Monty reminds us, this is all without a car in the showroom, and without spending on conventional advertising. “Social media can mean more than just Facebook and Twitter, if it’s done in an integrated way.” The PR mileage, as measured in traditional media coverage, has been pretty impressive as well.

The next leg of the campaign doesn’t sound quite as simple as the first one, which was part of its beauty. Apparently Ford will enlist 20 additional “agents,” who will engage in competitions in local markets that bring to mind “Amazing Race”-style antics. Except that the local contests are meant to “immerse them in cultural movements, allowing them to ignite passion into their communities through social media while opening the discussion about Fiesta.”

Hmmm. I’m not sure what that’s about. But, given the grassroots groundswell surrounding the first Fiesta campaign, we can probably count on more milestones in the near future. At this juncture, the Movement’s about more than just Ford or its subcompact; it’s become a symbol of marketers getting the customer religion. What’s wonderfully ironic is that it took an uncool, utilitarian brand from a tired and crumbling industry to show us the way.

Ford Throws A Social Media Fiesta

At last, some good news from Detroit…or at least, an interesting move in which the words “bailout” and “bankruptcy” have no place. Ford recently announced that it will offer Fiesta subcompact cars to 100 Web types – bloggers, Twitter rockstars,  and social media influencers – for six months.  The lucky 100 will receive car insurance and gas, so they can test-drive the Fiestas and tell the world about them, or at least clue in those within their plugged-in social spheres. Ford’s asking for “honest feedback,” about the product, and you can tune in today via Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.
None of this is new. It’s what PR and marketing people have done for years…loaning products to people with influence. Yes, the fact that the Web-savvy road-testers are being gifted might affect the tone of the coverage. But, the campaign is so transparent, and the number of participants relatively large enough, that it’s hard to call a fix.
The real significance of the campaign is what it says about “alternative” media channels, and putting influencers in the driver’s seat. For a marketer in such a mass-media-intensive category to make this kind of commitment to social media is exciting. Instead of another forgettable commercial featuring footage of sleek and shiny vehicles hugging curves, it’s a cost-efficient and entirely practical campaign that addresses how people actually hear about, recommend, and buy cars.
Plus, it’s accomplished what every marketer dreams of – seeding buzz and anticipation in advance of a product launch. The 100 drivers were selected from 4,000 applicants, and Ford has said it will offer 100,000 pre-launch test drives to those interested. So, its reach will extend far beyond the “reviewers.”
It’s a nifty program, and it actually seems like a strategic bullseye for the Fiesta’s target driver. Mostly, it’s precedent-setting. When a major player from an old-line industry goes full-speed into social media, it’s fair to say we’ve turned a corner.