Ford’s Divided Heart
In elementary school, there was a boy who really wanted me to “go steady” with him (yes, that’s what we called it back then.) He pursued me fervently and eventually persuaded me to say “yes.” Then, he proceeded to instruct me not to tell anyone about our amorous relationship because he didn’t want people to know we were together.
I remember being so confused by what seemed to be his divided heart. And while I eventually got over it (and he over me), the memory lingered on enough for me to recall it when I heard of recent developments at Ford Motor Company.
Apparently Ford just reclaimed control of its blue oval logo. You see, back in 2006, the company put up its famous logo (and other assets) as collateral to secure loans in order to avoid the bailouts and bankruptcies that felled its peers. It turned out to be a smart move, but recovering the logo had become an obsession among its employees, according to a piece in Bloomberg Businessweek. The article quoted Neil Schloss, Ford’s treasurer as saying, “Getting the blue oval back has been a huge rallying cry and one that we all feel emotionally connected to.”
But at the same time, The Wall Street Journal reported that Ford has just launched a new campaign that takes “some steps to make its blue oval logo less visible in marketing efforts.” According to the article, Ford began running ads that showed several of its new vehicles but didn’t display the logo or say “Ford” anywhere in the ad. Ford’s marketing execs “say the company is trying to get consumers to consider the products and hear the message before seeing the brand name.”
It sounds like Ford’s heart is as divided as was my pre-teen suitor’s. Does the company believe the logo serves as a halo conveying priceless emotional value or an anchor weighing down its products? Both, it seems.
The company’s two-faced actions may be a matter of target audiences – the brand may be a source of pride for those who know it and a turnoff for those who don’t. But it seems a mistake to try to deny the power of the brand by disguising it in commercials. In the words of my wise colleague Randy Korba who asked me for my POV on this issue, Ford is trying to “access a stale market by making its brand and product more generic.”
Many companies would love to have the brand equity Ford does – I would say it’s their strongest asset and most sustainable competitive advantage. But this new campaign seems to devalue the brand — and there are serious consequences for such short-sightedness. Ultimately you either use your brand or you lose it. As my would-be boyfriend sadly discovered, you can’t have it both ways.
Fortunately I am more sympathetic to Ford than him, so I want to suggest a different approach. If its cars are innovative enough to turn skeptics into fans, why shouldn’t its marketing be as innovative? Mini Cooper put one of its cars in a oversized toy box; Toyota created a web-based reality show featuring emerging artists for its Scion; and even Ford previously gave Fiestas to people so they could live with the car for six months and tell the world about it.
Such unconventional marketing approaches would be more effective in prompting a reconsideration of the brand instead of running somewhat disingenuous ads. And the company would be building its brand and increasing its value instead of stifling it.