**Ford Recall Banners Get 22 Percent Click-Throughs

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Ford Motor Co. is claiming astronomical click rates for banners ads it has placed in its effort at damage control over the Firestone tire recall.

According to Ford, banners running Aug. 11 through Sept. 15 on AOL recorded a 22 percent click-through. MSN.com yielded 37 percent and usatoday.com 13 percent. Click-through rates on Yahoo, iVillage.com, bolt.com, wsj.com and MSNBC.com -- Ford's other media buys -- were not immediately available.

"We realize that a lot of people are getting their information from the Internet and we're pleased with the response we got with this banner effort," said Carolyn Brown, spokeswoman at Ford, Dearborn, MI.

The initiative plays on one of the Internet's well-known strengths -- the ability to deliver large amounts of information inexpensively -- and marks the first time banners have been used in a recall of such proportions.

Ford's online campaign broke two days after the Aug. 9 Firestone recall. The banners link to a location on www.ford.com loaded with recall information.

Banners are the only online media that Ford bought to complement its offline advertising efforts -- which included television, radio and print -- a possible boost to supporters of a medium that now reports an estimated 0.3 percent click-through rate.

The interactive nature of the banner ad was a decisive factor in its favor, particularly its easy link to the Ford Web site for tire recall information. The banner reads, "For official Ford News on the Firestone recall, click here."

"We wanted to include safety information about what vehicles were affected and the telephone numbers and e-mail addresses for the special Web sites and customer service centers that we'd opened specially to handle this tire recall," Brown said.

Ford chose sites that would reach the broadest cross section of the population as well as likely Ford Explorer owners.

"We know, for example, that AOL reaches 60 million viewers a day; MSNBC reaches 7 million a day; The Wall Street Journal's Web site reaches 4.1 million; and USA Today's Web site reaches 4.5 million viewers a day," Brown said.

Once clicked, the banners take visitors to a page that lists the authorized Firestone replacement centers and Ford-certified replacement tires. The page also contains links to a question and answer page, a detailed list of the tires recalled and their ideal replacements, an authorized list of Ford and Firestone dealers, toll-free telephone numbers and various other links to recall-related Web pages.

The automaker has also created a special e-mail address, tireinquiry@ford.com, to support the volume of inquiries received from Ford customers whose tires need replacing.

"That was done to support the additional telephone operations and customer assistance center, people that are solely dedicated to this effort," Brown said. "We have about 800 customer service representatives answering phones every day just on the tire."

The banners will run through early November, around the time Ford expects all faulty Firestone tires will have been replaced. Ford Motor Media, an in-house division, bought the media.

Bridgestone Corp.'s Firestone brand has been held responsible for nearly 88 deaths caused by defective tires fitted on the Ford Explorer. This is the second time that Firestone tires were recalled from the U.S. market. The first recall, in 1978, cost Firestone $400 million.

Compared to Ford, Bridgestone's initial communications to the public seemed tardy. It broke print ads only on Aug. 16, five days after Ford and a week after the recall commenced. Firestone TV commercials aired four times Aug. 26 and 29; by contrast, Ford's two TV spots aired each for a week.

Ford spokeswoman Brown said the company's customer service lines have been ringing nonstop after the ads broke.

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