Wednesday, November 12, 2008
In October 2005, Ford Motor Company introduced the new Ford Fusion. Inspired by the company’s futuristic Ford 427 concept car, the Fusion was a four-door sedan aimed at young, upwardly mobile drivers. It replaced the discontinued Taurus model. The Fusion was launched into a competitive segment that featured established vehicles such as the Nissan Altima, the Honda Accord, and the best-selling car in the U.S. market, the Toyota Camry. Ford hoped that the Fusion’s unique visual design, which included a distinctive three-bar front grille, would help the vehicle stand out.
The J. Walter Thompson agency, also based in Detroit, was responsible for developing a launch campaign for the Fusion. The resulting ‘‘Life in Drive’’ campaign kicked off in October 2005 and featured a mix of traditional and new-media advertising. Its centerpiece was a series of television commercials. There were several 15-second spots, along with two 30-second spots. The spots often ran back-to-back, with a 15-second commercial leading into one of the two longer spots. The 15-second spots all featured a contrast between ‘‘life’’—illustrated by images of people performing dull, frustrating tasks, such as trying to open a CD case—and ‘‘Life in Drive,’’ where the viewer saw the Fusion on a drive through a hip cityscape depicted via quick cuts. The campaign also featured an innovative online component, which included a ‘‘Photo Fusion’’ feature on the Ford website. Consumers could post pictures of themselves along with brief descriptions of what the photos contained. Posters were then given an opportunity to view other consumers’ pictures based on shared keywords in their descriptions. This interactive program was meant to attract young consumers who were comfortable with seeking information online.
The campaign met with solid success. Ford sold more than 23,000 units between the Fusion’s October 2005 debut and the end of the calendar year, with sales climbing every month. The vehicle sold so well that dealers reported having trouble keeping the new Fusion in stock, forcing Ford to increase production of the vehicle.
The Ford Motor Company was founded by Henry Ford on June 16, 1903. Based in Detroit, Michigan, the company was responsible for one of the most important innovations in automobile manufacturing, the assembly line. This 1913 innovation helped make Ford the second-largest automaker in the world (after General Motors) for much of the twentieth century. By the beginning of the twenty-first century the Ford Motor Company was selling vehicles under eight different brands: Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Land Rover, Mazda, Volvo, Jaguar, and Aston Martin.
Ford decided to create a new four-door family sedan to replace the Taurus, an older model that consumers no longer found exciting. After considering other names, the company called the new vehicle the Ford Fusion. The design of the vehicle was inspired in part by the Ford 427, a concept vehicle that had been met with general acclaim at a number of auto shows. The Fusion featured a spacious interior, a stiff chassis for better handling, and a distinctive exterior design. The car was meant to look sleek and speedy, in contrast to other, more staid midsize sedans, such as the Taurus. Most notable was the vehicle’s three-bar front grille and its unique triangular taillights.
Ford also created a racing version of the Fusion, which competed in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) events. In fact, Ford’s racing division provided some input on the car’s design. Internal data showed that Ford’s market share was 6 percent higher among NASCAR fans than it was nationally. The Fusion would debut at the Ford Championship weekend at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, which featured the final race of the 2005 NASCAR Busch series. The event was planned for November 17 and 18, 2005.
In October 2005 Ford introduced the Fusion for model year 2006, with a base price of $17,795. Ford was already in the midst of a strong year, with sales up 12 percent from 2004 through September. It hoped to be able to establish the Fusion as a vehicle that could sell up to 160,000 units annually.
The Fusion was designed to appeal to consumers between the ages of 25 and 35. These consumers were identified by the company as being strongly interested in music and technology. Ford wanted to connect with middle-income consumers who were both established in their careers and upwardly mobile. While some of these buyers gravitated toward sportier cars, such as the Ford Mustang, or toward large SUVs, internal data at the automaker led Ford to believe that drivers in this age group were becoming more interested in midsize sedans. In effect, the Fusion would serve as the next step for the young drivers who had previously driven smaller cars such as the Ford Focus. As a family sedan the Fusion was especially geared toward young families, people with younger children, or those considering starting a family soon.
The Fusion competed most directly with other midsize vehicles. These included imports such as the Honda Accord, the Nissan Altima, and the Volkswagen Jetta and domestic models such as GM’s Chevrolet Malibu. The giant of the midsize field, however, was the Toyota Camry. First introduced in 1980, the Camry had been the biggest-selling car in the United States in seven out of the eight years between 1997 and 2004. In 2004 it sold an impressive 426,990 units. It usually sold for between $19,000 and $25,000. The Camry was not a flashy car; its popularity rested primarily on its reputation for quality. It was a safe, durable vehicle and held its resale value well.
Ford hoped that by pricing the Fusion between $17,995 and $21,000, it would distinguish itself from its competitors. Prices for the other major midsize cars on the market began around $18,400 and could climb as high as $25,000 for so-called luxury versions of the vehicles. Ford believed that its aggressive pricing might help offset the fact that many established brands had built-in customer bases.
Ford designated the Detroit-based ad agency J. Walter Thompson with developing a launch strategy for the new Fusion. The resulting campaign, released in October 2005, was named ‘‘Life in Drive,’’ and it mixed traditional television and print advertising with online efforts and live events. Print ads appeared in USA Today and in local newspapers. The campaign was preceded by a series of Fusion Flash Concerts, featuring bands such as alternative hip-hop stars the Roots, popular rapper Fat Joe, and rock bands Staind and Collective Soul. The Staind event was a particular success, drawing 12,000 people to a free concert in Boston. Organizers had only expected a showing of about 500.
The ‘‘Life in Drive’’ campaign began in earnest with a series of 15-second teaser spots directed by Grammy-winning director Joseph Kahn, who had previously directed music videos for rock band U2 and rapper Eminem, among others. One commercial, ‘‘Trash Day,’’ began with a half-dressed man taking out the garbage. He was too late and missed the garbage truck, and a voice-over declared, ‘‘This is life.’’ Suddenly, rock music blared, and a series of quick cuts showed a Fusion driving around a city. The voice-over returned to say, ‘‘This is life in drive.’’ Another 15-second spot, ‘‘Doggie,’’ showed a young woman cleaning up after her dog, leading to the same voice-over and quick cuts. The spot titled ‘‘CD’’ featured the same setup, only this time it began with someone having difficulty opening a CD case. Each commercial closed with the text tagline ‘‘Life in D,’’ which then gave way to the Ford Fusion logo. The ‘‘D’’ resembled the ‘‘D’’ (for ‘‘drive’’) that appeared on the Fusion’s gearshift.
Kahn also directed two 30-second spots for the campaign. These premiered on October 31, 2005. The most important, ‘‘Particle,’’ drew attention through its prominent use of the Apple iPod as a prop. A portable music player known for its distinctive white color and sleek design, the iPod was first introduced in 2001 and quickly became the most popular digital-music player on the market. It was particularly popular among drivers in the Fusion’s target demographic. Some critics felt that by trying to associate itself with a trendy new product, Ford risked allowing the Fusion to look stale and uncool by comparison. One critic noted that the Fusion did not even have an adapter that would allow the iPod to play in the vehicle.
‘‘Particle’’ began with a man on a subway listening to the device. As he listened, particles that looked like bubbles began to rise out of the iPod. These bubbles then drifted up from the subway car and onto a dance floor, where they circled a young woman. The bubbles continued to circulate, moving past rollerbladers and a flat-screen television. Finally they reached a traffic intersection, where they ‘‘fused’’ together to become a Ford Fusion vehicle. The other 30-second spot, ‘‘Ignition,’’ featured a similar theme. This time the Fusion itself generated the energy, which in turn revitalized a wornout urban neighborhood. Both commercials ended with a voice-over declaring, ‘‘a car shouldn’t just use energy, it should create it,’’ before concluding that the Fusion represented ‘‘more innovation from Ford.’’ Often Ford packaged one of the 15-second spots back-to-back with one of the longer commercials, creating a 45-second advertising block.
The campaign quickly branched out into new media. In November Ford began an effort at three major Web portals: Yahoo!, AOL, and MSN. The Fusion was represented via prominent ads and banners on all three sites. Ford also used an innovative ‘‘Photo Fusion’’ feature on its own website. The feature allowed customers to post personal pictures on the site. When they did so, consumers were also asked to describe their photos. Based on those descriptions, the Photo Fusion feature would then show other consumers’ pictures to the poster, based on similar keywords in both descriptions. This interactive system was meant to appeal to young consumers who were more interested in actively navigating the Web than in watching TV commercials. The company also posted selected ‘‘Life in Drive’’ television spots on the company’s website.
The Fusion met with solid success. After its October 2005 introduction the vehicle saw sales increase every month. By November Ford had already sold 15,481 units (a number that included precampaign sales). In December the Fusion sold 7,568 units, its best monthly figures for 2005. According to internal studies, customers rated the Fusion’s unique design as the number one reason for purchasing the vehicle. The car managed this without the heavy incentives, such as cash rebates, that many automakers used to help sell new vehicles. The vehicle proved so popular that Ford dealers had a difficult time keeping it in stock. As 2006 began, Ford ramped up production to meet the ever-growing demand. In an effort to expand its appeal, the company also announced that it would develop a hybrid version of the Fusion for model year 2008.