Ford TV Ads Drive Audience to Web

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After live commercials by Ford Motor Co. last September failed to convince the target audience the ads were not recorded, Ford upped the interactive level of a new series of ads to leave no doubt they were live.


The new ads, which began March 8 and run through April, tout the Ford Focus. At the end of each ad viewers are told to register at Focus-247.com to vote on what will happen in the next ad. Visitors must submit their names, e-mail addresses, ages, telephone numbers and street addresses, and answer a few questions about their car buying habits and the promotion.


"This has been a great way to develop permission-based relationship marketing," said Bruce Rooke, executive creative director at J.Walter Thompson, which developed the campaign for Ford. "At worst these spots give Ford a great lead in contacting participants. Everyone who signs up to vote is sent a thank you e-mail and later on in the campaign we can segment the audience by level of participation and through the information they gave us to contact them again."


Focus247.com invites registrants to choose the actresses, actors and story line for the ads, which appear on ABC's Wednesday night lineup of "Two Guys and a Girl," "The Norm Show," "The Drew Carey Show" and "20/20". Wednesday night is ABC's strongest night for attracting Ford's target audience of 18 to 25 year olds.


Ford's September effort, which promoted the launch of the Focus, also prompted viewers to go to the Web site. It offered viewers only one interactive choice - which dress the actress would wear. It drew 18,000 unique visitors to the site, convincing Ford it had hit the right button for its targeted demographic, although it failed to capture the spontanaity Ford wanted.


"When we went live last year it was to appeal to a younger audience," said Bill George, public affairs manager at Ford. "The whole point to the marketing strategy was that younger viewers would connect with the off-the-cuff style of a live commercial. But we found that the response was exactly the opposite. They didn't believe it was live. By adding the interactive element we are now completely immersing this product in the world of the Internet and convergence, a place were young people today feel very at home."


The first ads on March 8 drew more than 90,000 people to the site within four days of the airing, according to Ford executives.


"We're really trying to find a way to connect with viewers and bring them to a new level of involvement using the Internet," George said. "We got a little bit crazy and out there with this promotion, but it really hits home with the 18- to 25-year-old market we are trying to target. Ever since this car was introduced last September we have pushed the marketing campaign to the limits, because that's what this group is attracted to."


When Nike aired similar call-to-action spots earlier this year sending viewers to nike.whatever.com to view the conclusion of the ad, both CBS and NBC refused to allow the phrase "continued at" to proceed the Web address for fear it would drive away viewers. NBC eventually allowed the phrase to appear.


Like Ford, Nike also was trying to reach a younger audience that was watching TV and surfing the Net at the same time. Sources say ABC never had a problem with the Nike spots. The network has also benefited from the Ford Focus spots. The ads kept viewers on the channel throughout the night to see what happened next.


"These spots are terrific," said direct response veteran Jeff Meltzer of Go Direct, New York. "They are able to lead generate through mainstream advertising, drive people to the site and establish a customer base for the future. Like people in the direct response television industry have done for years, Ford and other big commercial companies are learning to narrowcast for measured media."
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