Ford’s Odd Jump Into Blogs

Word from Jalopnik is that Ford Motor Company has made a huge splash while jumping into the world of bloggers and purchased advertising space on 400 different urban-hipster & environmental blogs. Not only that, but the advertisements that Ford is placing say things like, “With one of the worst fuel efficiency records of any car company, Ford is trying to ‘go green.’ As another oil crisis looms on the horizon, can they turn talk into action?” Ultimately, the ad pushes users to an episode of Ford’s weekly BoldMoves documentary series that highlights the automaker’s mistakes, fuel inefficiency, “corporate B.S. and political posturing.”

Yes, folks, that’s right. Ford is saying they have bad fuel efficiency and that they’ve made hundreds of mistakes. Has the company that pioneered the assembly line finally lost their mind?

Maybe not so much. According to an email sent by BlogAds owner Henry Copeland to each of the owners of the 400 blogs that the Ford ad will be appearing on, the ad is following guidelines set forth in the 1999 Cluetrain Manifesto, a collection of theses that advocate the idea that markets are conversations, that the Internet will allow these conversations to occur, and that these conversations will not be filled with one-sided brand messages.

Copeland said:

Back in 1999 the Cluetrain Manifesto predicted that people-powered-publishing would spark a commercial revolution. Magnified by cheap web sites and hyperlinks, passionate individual human voices would drown out bland corporate-speak.

As Cluetrain put it, “most corporations… only know how to talk in the soothing, humorless monotone of the mission statement, marketing brochure, and your-call-is-important-to-us busy signal. Same old tone, same old lies. No wonder networked markets have no respect for companies unable or unwilling to speak as they do. But learning to speak in a human voice is not some trick, nor will corporations convince us they are human with lip service about ‘listening to customers.’ They will only sound human when they empower real human beings to speak on their behalf.”

So, does the ad work?

Well, certainly Ford should be applauded for trying something so drastically different from the norm. The only other event I can think of like this was back in March when a Chevy website that allowed users to create their own advertisements for the Chevy Tahoe was used to create and circulate videos critical of the environmental impact of SUVs. This is generally pointed to an example of the dangers of providing content for users to remix, but, from a personal perspective, at least, I gained a lot of respect for Chevy when they said, “We anticipated that there would be critical submissions. You do turn over your brand to the public and we know that we were going to get some bad with the good. It’s part of playing in this space.” When I heard this, I said to myself, “Hey, here are some people who really get what’s going on.”

Likewise, I think Ford’s move is great. It’s ballsy and, while they probably will end up receiving a ton of negative comments (and a ton of positive comments too, I imagine), it seems like Ford is really ready to engage in a dialogue with consumers about their products and that, in turn, makes me feel warm and fuzzy about them. Am I being swayed by just a clever marketing move?

Jalopnik does raise a good question, though, about whether paying for advertising space on a page is the same as engaging in a real discussion. I don’t know how much I see this as a problem because Ford is a large corporation and it’s kind of expected. It would be much worse to have them secretly trying to sell their story to these folks instead. Personally, I’m going to say that just by producing and publishing the advertisements and the critical video they link to, Ford will be creating a lot of dialogue about the company, its direction and whether it can turn things around or not. Sounds like a success to me.