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Why Americans Haven’t Driven a Ford Lately

Posted By Jeff Sexton On September 25, 2007 @ 10:33 am In Advertising,Articles,Branding,Product Development | 14 Comments

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 [1].)

Any wonder why these “Mercury Girl” commercials are receiving a lackluster response from buyers [2]? 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 [3], I argue that, while non-substantive fashion items — e.g., clothing, shoes — can be sold on style alone (which might explain this reaction [4] 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 [5].

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 [6] lifetime [7] powertrain [8] warranty [9].)
  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 [10].

Article printed from Conversion Rate Optimization & Marketing Blog | FutureNow: http://www.grokdotcom.com

URL to article: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/09/25/would-you-buy-a-car-from-this-woman/

URLs in this post:

[1] click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r7eT9MghOWI

[2] a lackluster response from buyers: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/16/business/media/16count.html

[3] style vs. substance: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/07/30/copy-perspective-monday-5-style-vs-substance/

[4] this reaction: http://www.automk.com/thread-33189-1-1.html

[5] when your competition’s messaging is at least as bad as yours: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2007/09/17/you-aint-all-that-a-marketing-copy-autopsy-part-2/

[6] Chrysler’s: http://www.autoblog.com/2007/07/26/breaking-chrysler-announces-lifetime-powertrain-warranty/

[7] lifetime: http://business.techwhack.com/2819/dodge-vehicles/

[8] powertrain: http://www.siennaclub.org/forum/index.php?showtopic=16518

[9] warranty: http://www.autobloggreen.com/2007/07/27/new-chrysler-lifetime-powertrain-warranty-wont-apply-to-hybrids/

[10] at least you’re not General Motors: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/business/25auto.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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