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FutureNow Article
Tuesday, Sep. 25, 2007

Why Americans Haven’t Driven a Ford Lately

By Jeff Sexton
September 25th, 2007

ford_logo.jpgI 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:

  1. Americans still doubts Ford’s build quality (when it comes to passenger cars).
  2. Americans would rather buy a car that will retain its value.

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:

(If you’re reading this in an RSS reader, click here.)

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:

  1. Offer a bumper-to-bumper warranty for 7 years and a powertrain warranty for 10 years. Close the loopholes. Make the warranty transferable. Include basic servicing and consumables like brake pads. That way, we’ll know the car has been well cared for, and when the original owner goes to sell it in 4-5 years, she’ll be able to offer the buyer 2-3 years worth of full warranty and another 5-6 years of powertrain warranty. That’s one bold, resale value-boosting move. (Besides, you’ve now got to compete with Chrysler’s lifetime powertrain warranty.)
  2. Offer to buy back the car in “X years” if the owner isn’t satisfied. It’s probably not as risky as it seems if you’re already doing step #1, and if you’re really making “Quality Job #1″ as you promised in the 80′s. Again, this will dramatically elevate the used car price. (Besides, you’ll get a premium used car to lease or sell if it doesn’t work out.)

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.

Add Your Comments

Comments (14)

  1. I think there are broader issues troubling the big-5 automakers (Ford, GM, etc.).

    1) the cars they are building aren’t the cars people want. Take the Ford Mondeo (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Mondeo ) as an example — Bond fans wanted it, movie fans loved the styling but couldn’t get this slick, Euro-designed styled Ford product anywhere in North America.

    2) less and less consumers are buying ‘big cars’. The reason the others are winning is they are building the cars customers want. Persuasion needs to connect to users/visitors/owners. You could put 20 people in a room that didn’t buy a Ford, ask them why, take that away and build a car that easily many more would buy. Ford needs stop being “inside the bottle”

    3) style and design. Ford = box while others = exciting, style, hip

  2. The website cougarsunroof.com has over 1200 reasons why people have not driven a Ford/Mercury product lately.

  3. Nice to see someone else who thinks the same way as me.

  4. This might explain “why people have not driven a Ford lately?”

  5. #1 reason no more FORDS

    $100.00 for a spare keys

    thats 100 as in 100 bucks

    try it , for any yr 2000 up

  6. Ive owned 3 Fords and their reliabilty has sucked majorly. I promised myself I would never buy a Ford again….but with their new warranties and the Fusion hybrid on the market…I may change my mind!

  7. Well, it is interesting to hear some one else’s ideas. I think Ford will have some things to take care of and improve but that doesn’t mean their cars are bad.

  8. Green Bay Ford,

    Thanks for the comment. Funny how much has changed in since I wrote this post. Actually, I don’t think Ford cars are bad, I just thought their advertising was off the mark given their position within the industry and the then-current perception of their cars. What Ford marketing has to do is give Americans a strong reason to buy a Ford instead of a Toyota or Honda or Hyundai and that can’t be done with flash and super-hot spokesmodels.

    What I do think is that Ford is enjoying a resurgence of popularity because of their willingness to walk away from bailout money and their renewed focus on designing world class cars. Personally, I’d like nothing more than to see American Car companies make a comeback.

    - Jeff

  9. Bought a 2005 focus wagon against the advice of my mechanic, and now I’m embarrassed to have done so! In the 2 years I’ve owned the car (I bought under warranty because I was tired of fixing cars, not knowing how little is covered) two glaringly-obvious items aren’t covered under warranty: the tail light sockets melted around the bulb bases- Ford calls that normal wear and tear (overheating due to stop and go traffic- apparently they’ve never heard of thermal resistant plastic…or testing for that matter!), and the clutch master cylinder just went bad at 38K mi, which has also ruined the clutch- again, Ford just feels that MC just succumbed to normal WAT (and an alarming number of MCs fail at exactly this milage.) Hey Ford, all cars are subjected to “wear and tear”, but the Corollas, Civics, and even Saturns are designed to hold up to it! It’s called better design, better materials, better testing- that’s quality that doesn’t require a slogan!

  10. “What Ford marketing has to do is give Americans a strong reason to buy a Ford instead of a Toyota or Honda or Hyundai and that can’t be done with flash and super-hot spokesmodels.”

    Agree… but the new Fusion and Escape have taken quite an environmental kick in advertising that I feel can compete with Toyota, Honda and Hyundai.

  11. Ford. Don’t drive one.
    Bought an ‘ 07 focus se hatchback brand new fuel system probs ever since 7,000 miles still not resolved by the dealership. Don’t buy a Ford and don’t buy microsoft and you’ll be fine!LOL

  12. hey Jeff, the suggested programs are a long term marketing that will give a result only after few years. Buying back a car after X years can bring overall value but there is a risk of long term usage of these cars, that is a confilct with the “people need to buy new cars” strategy. Both suggestions need to be calculated well to find out the profit of these steps. Anyway, they need to experiment with different approached to get the best solution, it’s true…

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Jeff is a Persuasion Architect, Web copywriter, blogger, and instructor of FutureNow's Persuasive Online Copywriting workshop. Follow Jeff Sexton on twitter

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