Amber Roussel and Mark Austin are Team Houston, and they got the gold (two Fiestas). (Ford Motor Company)
I have seen the future of auto marketing, and it has nothing to do with the relentless TV ads (even the funny ones) that no one believes anymore. Ford had a brilliant idea: Hire 20 teams of young and attractive Internet bloggers to promote the Ford Fiesta, sponsor a contest allowing the winner to keep not one but two cars, and then just stand back. They're going to reach the kids where they live.
Ford has just completed the second round of its Fiesta Movement promotion, and gathered in 500,000 YouTube views, 70,000 Flickr views and an awesome 10.7 million Twitter impressions. I've got to believe that will be far more effective then spending kazillions on slick 60-second spots.
Ford is hardly the only automaker latching on to the benefits of social media. All the Big Three have high-placed specialists now. Nissan is proving adept, and Toyota created an entire "Darker Side of Green" themed series to promote the new Lexus CT200h hybrid (see TDG original video of the launch below), complete with live environmental debates and Dark Ride, a noir-ish movie.
I once read a fascinating survey that showed definitively that advertisers who target urban neighborhoods with ethnically correct ads featuring celebrities inevitably fail, because the pitchmen and women are judged inauthentic in the community. The social media campaigns work because they're presumed to come from peers and neighbors.
The winner of Ford's latest contest is Team Houston, otherwise known as the young couple Mike Austin and Amber Roussel. They are media savvy: Mike is an accountant by day, but by night a photographer of music shows for Rolling Stone, the Houston Press and others. Amber plans marketing campaigns and PR events, and launches interactive media, plus takes photos for Paste.
For the Fiesta, they went all out, relentlessly Twittering, blogging and event planning. They created a mural in front of a local restaurant in a busy part of Houston and then planned a party around it. The mural is really cool, and you can see it here in context:
Team Houston also produced a short film called Pause, which was screened before Get Him to the Greek, and then hosted an after-party. Ford had asked them as part of the challenge to the competitors to pick a favorite band who'd get a chance to showcase at Bonaroo, but they decided to go beyond that and actually created a battle of the bands--with 20 Houston-based groups participating--to win the honor. Instead of judging it themselves, they brought in a celebrity panel. The event was free, but to raise money for a local charity, Noah's Kitchen, they created a VIP room with $10 admission and a silent auction. The event raised $4,000. And Tyagaraja, good luck getting to Bonaroo!
Oh yeah, the Fiesta, Ford's new small car. They loved it. "I had a chance to drive it on a 10-hour road trip to west Texas and it was really comfortable," Amber said. They actually borrowed two different cars, with the first being the Euro version. "The Sync system had a British accent and there was no ambient lighting," Mark said.
Team Houston will keep one of the two Fiestas they won, but the other goes to Noah's Kitchen. Not leaving a stone unturned, they will create a "community day" around the handover ceremony with special events. "We'll maybe plant an urban garden and then do something fun," Amber said.
For Ford, the rewards just keep on coming. Team Houston, plus high achievers from Brooklyn, Los Angeles and San Francisco will be showcased on Current TV. A lot of bang for not a lot of bucks.
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