I hate to say it, but ignoring it won’t make it any less true: Americans don’t believe Ford (or Mercury) makes cars that equal its competitors.
Comparably equipped Fords don’t sell for as much new, and they lose their value much faster as they age. That’s not opinion, it’s fact.
According to Edmunds.com, a 2002 Mercury Sable can generally be had for $5,924 to $6,917. Meanwhile, a Toyota Camry from the same year sells anywhere from $9,641 to $12,538. As of today, the 2008 invoice price differential between a premium, non-AWD (all wheel drive) V-6 Mercury Milan and a top trim level V-6 Toyota Camry is about $3,500
While there are undoubtedly different ways to spin this data, I’ve come to these conclusions:
With that in mind, imagine what sort of messaging might persuade you to purchase a Milan over a Camry, or a Honda Accord.
Now, watch this commercial:
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Any wonder why these “Mercury Girl” commercials are receiving a lackluster response from buyers? Jill Wagner is certainly an attractive spokeswoman, but what has she told us about the car? Has she really conveyed anything that’ll convince you to “put Mercury on your list”?
In my article on style vs. substance, I argue that, while non-substantive fashion items — e.g., clothing, shoes — can be sold on style alone (which might explain this reaction to the Mercury commercials), substantive products require substantive messaging.
If your product is substantially more stylish than the competition — the Milan may be a good looking car, but it’s hardly a style icon like the Mini — it might be a selling point, but generally speaking, great copy can only overcome lousy messaging when your competition’s messaging is at least as bad as yours.
That’s obviously not the case for Mercury.
What might I recommend for Ford/Mercury? Well, it’ll take more than ad copy; they’ll need an actual business strategy backed by solid messaging. But here’s what I’d have in mind:
If Ford wants to claim they’re as good as the imports, they’ll need to put some teeth into that claim. These offers will do that. Closeups of Jill Wagner, combined with upbeat music, won’t.
P.S. Yes, I know that both these offers have been used before. In fact, Hyundai already owns the 10-year warranty in the minds of most car buyers, but look at what it’s done for them! I’m simply proposing that Ford/Mercury beat Hyundai at it’s own game AND leverage Mitsubishi’s failed attempt at a buy-back program.
P.P.S. Will these programs have a cost to them? Sure. Take some of it out of the ad budget. Make this move and you’ll get enough word-of-mouth and PR to make up for it. For the rest? Suck it up and look 5 years — not 5 months — down the road. Increased sales now, increased resale value, and increased asking price can all do wonders for blunting the pain of funding these programs. And, hey… at least you’re not General Motors.