DEARBORN, Mich. – Ford Motor Co. (F) is unveiling what the No. 2 U.S. automaker says is a do-or-die marketing strategy during one of America's most-watched television shows in an effort to show consumers it has been reinvented.
The strategy, called "Bold Moves," features a new song by Grammy-winning singer Kelly Clarkson and commercials showing active people who value family time, leisure and the outdoors. The first ad debuted during Tuesday night's episode of "American Idol," the ratings juggernaut that has attracted more than 28 million viewers to its most recent telecasts.
Ford won't say how much the heavily researched campaign will cost, but executives are candid about what's at stake — the future of one of America's most storied companies.
"Obviously, you don't make a commitment like this ... until you are 100 percent confident that you've got the right goods, that you're true to your brand and you're representing your customer," said Mary Lou Quesnell, director of branding for Ford, Lincoln and Mercury.
The strategy targets values, attitudes and emotion rather than age and other demographics, and it features conventional media as well as the Internet. It also links Ford's regional and local advertising to its national campaign with one theme.
The strategy was unveiled on a day when the company reported its April sales fell 7 percent as high gas prices sent buyers away from trucks and sport utility vehicles to more fuel-efficient models. In the past decade, Ford's U.S. market share has dropped from 26 percent to 18 percent, according to WardsAuto.com.
"Bold Moves," presented Tuesday to an auditorium full of employees and reporters at Ford's Dearborn headquarters, came after four months of work by Ford strategists to define its target market and build on its history of innovation, executives said.
After the meeting, dealer technical support employee Jon Sprunger of South Lyon said he was confident the campaign is a step in the right direction. He said the company has a pretty solid product mix, but it needs to be stronger.
"I think it's getting there. Obviously we're building on it all the time," he said.
The 60-second spots tout Ford's newer models, including the Fusion, Escape and Mustang, and they try to capture emotion between family members.
With the new Clarkson song "Go" in the background, the main spot shows a baby taking its first steps, a rodeo rider, a woman shaving her head and a young man getting off a bus with a suitcase in New York.
"It happens every day. Someone, somewhere makes a bold move. There's a car company for people like that. Ford," the tag line says.
But the campaign alone won't be enough if Ford can't earn back the trust of American buyers who equate domestic brands with low quality, outdated styling and an image that appears cheap.
"Even though their reliability is better, they're certainly not convincing people that it is," said Daniel Gorrell, a partner with Strategic Vision, a marketing research and consulting company in San Diego.
He questioned whether the company should have waited until it had more new products in showrooms before rolling out the strategy "so they can point to innovation and bold actions that they are doing."
Company officials also said Tuesday they will reduce prices on some models and add standard features on some 2007 models, including side-impact air bags on the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan, Lincoln Zephyr and the new Ford Edge crossover SUV.