You’re an old company with a tired, middle-of-the-road brand that few people are talking about anymore. How do you attract the attention of hip, younger customers? Ford is taking the direct approach.
The carmaker’s UK division is pleading with customers to ‘unlearn’ their preconceptions about its image. That’s understandable given that in Britain it’s perhaps best known for ‘sensible’ (boring?) cars like the Focus, Transit vans and the ‘Mondeo man’, Tony Blair’s chosen symbol of Middle England’s floating voter.
Instead, it seems Ford is keen to court ‘Mustang Man’ - presumably a more excitable, adrenaline-driven kind of customer. Last year the company began taking orders for its (admittedly iconic) American muscle car (pictured below) in the UK for the first time in 50 years. MT isn’t sure an old, brash, loudmouth of a car is the best model to win over more environmentally-conscious young consumers (least of all women, who are thought to hold most of the power when it comes to choosing a family car).
The whole of the automotive industry is having to come to terms with the fact that younger consumers are not as interested in cars as their predecessors. More urban lifestyles, better public transport (in some places) and the increasing ubiquity of services like Uber (not to mention soaring upkeep and insurance costs) have made owning a car less of a necessity than it used to be.
But there is cause for hope. Elon Musk’s ‘cool’ new upstart Tesla has captured a lot of attention with its all-electric cars and older firms like GM have ended up collaborating with ‘disruptors’ like ride-sharing start-up Lyft in the hope of moving with the times. Once an amusing pipe dream, self-driving cars have become a real prospect on the horizon, thanks to Google and others.
Ford itself wants to be recognised as an 'auto and mobility company' (emphasis Ford's). At the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month it launched FordPass, an app which 'aims to do for car owners what iTunes did for music fans.' The app helps users find parking spaces, lets them speak directly to ‘trusted and knowledgeable FordGuides’ and gives them access to ‘exclusive offers’ at McDonald’s and 7-Eleven. It’s not exactly earth-shattering, but it’s a sign that Ford is conscious about the risk of failing to attract a more digitally-savvy generation.
Ford’s latest push is a similar appeal to a younger audience. The TV ad tries to make its cars seem as modern as delivery drones and selfies. ‘Unlearn postmen...unlearn autographs...’ it urges. And ‘unlearn Mondeo Man.’ (Ford might be hoping customers will also unlearn Gareth Cheeseman, Steve Coogan's salesman character, who is widely held to be responsible for the death of the Ford Probe in the UK).
It’s easy to poke fun at Ford’s self-conscious marketing campaign but it must be doing something right. The company is on track to report record profits of around $11bn for last year, according to The Times. We’ll have to wait and see whether that kind of performance can be sustained throughout the disruptive pile-up that the industry will surely find itself in soon.