A number of dim bulbers emailed me this week to complain that it was dumb for spokesceleb Mike Rowe to add the phrase "why not?" to the end of Ford's tagline "why Ford, why now" in a new TV commercial.
I actually don't like the "why now" part.
Answering a rhetorical question is a valid communications approach, and it's even a business strategy if it has a purpose other than declaring truth into the cosmos. Telling people that your burgers are juicy, cost less, or available at 2 a.m. presumes some part of your audience might be hungry. Southwest Airlines' "you're free to move about the country" line answers the query "I want to go somewhere," even though it might not have been articulated immediately prior. I get it.
There are a zillion reasons people aren't buying cars like the old days back in 2007, and not many of the biggest questions have anything to do with Ford. Economic meltdown anybody? College savings evaporated? IRA values at a fraction of what they were a few years ago? Quick, name three friends who've lost their jobs in the past six months (it's OK to count yourself).
And let's not forget the vehicle quality revolution, which means lots of vehicles don't fall apart as fast as they used to, so there's much less of an organic replacement market...and it's not coming back.
So why Ford? Well, because it has won a lot of awards; the cars are the best at this, most at that. Initial quality. Gas mileage. These are arguably really good machines, and Ford deserves lots of extra credit for its foresight in borrowing a lot of money, and firing a lot of people, before its Detroit brethren got around to doing it. Consumers need to know this stuff; the brand must be repositioned.
No, it doesn't. It needs to answer real questions people are asking and, unless your car is about to fall apart, the pressing issue isn't "why Ford" but rather "why buy a new anything, let alone a new car?"
By not addressing this contextual reality, all of the otherwise valid claims come across as somewhat irrelevant, don't they? I mean, every car wins awards of one sort or another; there are services like J.D. Power that exist to sell this affirmation to any company that'll pay, not to mention all of the gearhead magazines that'll pretty much recognize every car for one or another honor.
Worse, all these factual statements and accolades get reduced to lines of text superimposed on marketing imagery...i.e. they get drained of any authenticity and uniqueness, and translated into brandingspeak. Ford even trolls the blogosphere to capture discussions about its brand, standardizes the feeds and formats, and tees it up on a special website. Voila! Ersatz conversation, only most of it was once real (well, except for the content picked up from friendly ad agencies).
Ford should figure out why somebody might need to go to a dealership to test drive a car today. Right now. The answer isn't going to be because Ford is a great company; it's going to be because:
- A third-party, not Ford, says "buy now" to the community that trusts it
- An individual says it to a family member or friend who needs a new car
- The company provides a compelling incentive that truly changes the game
Without one or more of these reasons, they're left with only one answer to the question of why Ford, why now?