2012 Ford Focus to Get Its Rally On

By Charles Krome

After striking online gold with its comprehensive “Fiesta Movement” marketing campaign, Ford is taking things to ye olde next level for the launch of the 2012 Focus. That’s the word this morning from Dearborn, Mich., where Ford brought in the media—including yours truly—for the launch of its “Focus Rally: America” effort.

The short story here is that Ford has teamed up with the creators of The Amazing Race reality show to essentially put together an online, automotive version that will run on Hulu.com beginning early next year. The event will feature six two-person teams, with each duo in their own Focus, as they drive across the U.S. and compete to finish a variety of sure-to-be-wacky challenges on the way. (Those interested in getting some seat time in the promotion can head over to www.FocusRally.com for info on casting.)

The Ford party line is that the Focus Rally is going to improve on the Fiesta Movement with both more interactivity and higher-quality content. For example, the former gets a big boost because the Focus teams will be relying on assistance from their online followers for help in completing the challenges. As to the latter bit, well, the heart of the Focus Rally content is going to be overseen by two Emmy-winning television pros.

But here’s the thing: Plenty of companies have run commercials during television broadcasts before, and have had famous names star in or direct said efforts, and sponsored shows in other ways, and made product placement deals, etc., etc. The significant change is that when you get past the talk about leveraging social media to increase exposure for the Focus, you find a major difference in how this exposure is being positioned. That is, Ford is trying to go beyond merely creating original content to be used in marketing efforts and instead trying to transcend the standard PR paradigm by developing what looks like original content that just happens to help its marketing efforts.

In simpler terms, instead of running its commercials on someone else’s show, Ford is running the show itself.

And speaking of paradigms, it’s worth noting that, not so long ago, automotive marketing put a lot of faith in what experts called “authenticity.” The idea was that younger buyers would shut down when they heard messages from a given automaker, or someone viewed as being on the automaker’s payroll, and respond better to “real” people who weren’t just getting paid to say the all-new Wagon Queen Family Truckster was the hottest car on the road.

Today, I’m thinking the rise in reality programming has either undermined viewers’ ability to determine real reality or the concept just isn’t a factor in the same way anymore. There were certainly no qualms at the press event about how people would react to the first—but likely not the last—program from the Ford Broadcasting Company.

Which isn’t to say the new Focus won’t live up to its marketing hype. Seeing it again in person this morning reminded me of what a high-quality car this is going to be, and my fellow media types obviously remain taken with the Focus as well. If anything, my concern is that the Focus will be too good—and therefore too pricey—for some mainstream buyers.

But I suppose that’s better that than the alternative.

(For those who are curious, that’s Ford’s director of U.S. marketing, Matt VanDyke, in the nifty “action” shot from this morning!)

Author: Charles Krome

Charles Krome is a long-time automotive journalist who spent more than 10 years on the inside at General Motors and Ford, and also has corporate communications experience with Audi, Porsche and BASF Automotive Refinish. As a big motorsports fan growing up in the Detroit area, Krome was lucky enough to be able to attend numerous NASCAR, Indy car, F1 and SCCA events while still in his formative years. This, combined with a childhood that included significant (passenger) seat time in cars from Lotus and Jensen Healey, made him a car guy at an earlier age. Today, he lives in metro Detroit with his car wife, raising car kids.

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