The recession had a heavy impact on the automobile industry, with GM and Chrysler as the biggest losers. Ford Motor Co. has differentiated itself from the two, by not accepting any federal money to get out of the crisis. They started a pretty smart PR campaign instead, and as a result, Ford gained more than two full percentage points of market share in the US last month.
Ford’s previous slogan “Drive One” was obviously not a smart choice: although it sends an authoritative message, the slogan lacks emotional value, it lacks clarity and it lacks vigor.
Since Ford, back in December 2008, decided not to accept federal funds, the company sends out a more powerful message, one that hits the spot and turns the public into consumers: “we are different.”
Note that in the years previous to the “Drive One” slogan, Ford managed to have better, bolder slogans. So what happened in 2008?
Americans are now buying cars and trucks from Ford more than before, and the success is attributed to the “Ford is different” public relations strategy; but we cannot and should not ignore a second possibility: would anyone buy a vehicle from a bankrupt company? GM and Chrysler are bankrupt, so where do you think the customers would turn? Obviously, to the only US company that was never bankrupt – Ford, the company that proved more stability in a time of deep crisis.
Yes, Ford is different, and yes, smart PR persuaded some customers, but this PR campaign had also an ideal timing to begin.
Brent Snavely, author for Free Press, analyzes in a recent article Ford’s newest promotion: “Drive the Ford Difference.” The author notes that this new campaign combines the “Ford is different” public relations strategy started in December 2008 with Ford’s previous “Drive One” campaign. Even more interesting, the author notes:
Thirty-eight percent of people shopping for a Ford cited the company’s rejection of federal loans as a factor that caused them to consider a Ford in May, according to a survey of 4,317 people by CNW Research.
The consumers like the idea that Ford is not owned by the US government, and buying an American automobile is also an impulse generated by patriotic feelings. There are other choices: Toyota, Honda, etc; but these are not American brands. For most of the American consumers owning an indigenous automobile is a must and a patriotic duty, even though some don’t always acknowledge the fact.
But Ford raised popularity doesn’t mean the end of the problems for the company. Ford still could be forced to ask for federal loans if the market doesn’t rebound. No PR campaign can make it up for the $1.4 billion lost by Ford over the first three months of this year. So if Ford will be forced to accept federal money, what will be America’s next brand of choice?
In times like these public relations faces numerous challenges: when a company is forced to do something against its values and principles, can PR repair the damage of a broken promise?