Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Ford Fiesta Movement. Take 2.

Earlier this year, I blogged about the Ford Fiesta Movement. As you may recall, the Ford motor company gave new Fiesta automobiles to 100 social media-savvy drivers for six months—hoping they would post videos and blog about the Fiesta, to build some buzz around the car’s early-2010 launch.

I really hadn’t heard much about the promotion since then, probably for good reason. None of the participants are within my social media universe and a search of Google News reveals the Movement has gotten scant post-launch coverage from the offline or online press, aside from a few well-placed stories.

They popped up on the TV show Extra when host Mario Lopez helped launch the Movement's “Social Activism Month” by donating items to a local charity while riding in a 2010 Ford Fiesta. They also placed a new Fiesta with a writer from Motortrend who made the equivalent of a head nod to the Movement while taking the car on a successful 600-mile trek through the mountains of Utah and Colorado.

Yet, while each of these stories gave the 2010 Fiesta some valuable press time, none featured any news about the participants themselves. What were those 100 Fiesta Movement social media mavens up to?

As it turns out, the 100 so-called “agents” in the program are not hard to find. Ford hosts a Fiesta Movement Web site with links to all 100. There are Live Feed pages that selectively highlight the latest tweets, videos and blog posts provided by the program participants. And a quick glimpse of these pages makes the program look like a buzz-worthy success with constant updates pouring in. It’s all Fiesta all the time!

But this got me wondering: how was this social media experiment working in the real world? Might I be exposed to the Ford Fiesta Movement message if I never visited the Ford Web site but was a quasi-follower of one the Movement agents?

As a quick test, I began looking specifically at about a dozen different agents’ blogging sites. What I discovered is that I had to do some real digging (or in this case, scrolling) to find news about the Fiesta or the Movement.

That’s no surprise really. The 100 agents in the Fiesta Movement were chosen because they already had a social media presence. And it appears that most involved are again writing about the things that made them Movement-worthy in the first place. The extreme spots dude is again writing about extreme sports. The hip-hop girl is out clubbing again. And just like in the real blogging world, one guy has seemingly packed it in, without a single post on anything
in over 3 months.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this lack of Fiesta news, as Movement participants themselves have reported they are under no pressure from Ford to comment favorably on the cars. (Although there does appear to be an attempt by Ford to “sponsor” conversations, as one agent blogger mentions picking up 8 points for a new post.)

Still, I imagine the folks at Ford are feeling a little underwhelmed by the participation of some of the chosen 100. I also wonder if Ford's 100 agent pool is deep and wide enough to reach beyond a small sliver of what I perceive to be the millennial target market. With hundreds of thousands of bloggers and video posters on the scene these days, it strikes me there's a certain self-centered, party-on sameness to the Fiesta Movement agents.

But, bottom line: I think we have to give Ford an F-250 truckload of credit here for going where no other major marketer has gone before. This truly is a groundbreaking effort and a sign of things to come. More and more, social media will be used as a customer acquisition tool and will be every bit as important as other online and offline efforts when it comes to launching a major product.

Looking ahead, I see two key questions that still remain to be answered:

Will the online activity turn into offline success? Despite its noble effort, I’m wondering if the Fiesta Movement has made a big enough impression for a national product launch. Will it really deliver bodies to the showroom? Ideally, Ford is on top of this and is already getting a read as to whether this experiment is working or not. I also wonder if it wouldn’t make sense to feature the participants in more traditional advertising efforts, including print, banner or TV spots, that tell people about the Fiesta Movement and point them to the site.

Was launching the program a full year before product launch a bit premature? While the new Ford Fiesta is already the number two car in Europe, it won’t be released until early 2010 here in the states. And with the promotion scheduled to be over by late 2009, I wonder if they should have started the effort closer to the car’s release date. By early next year, the Fiesta Movement’s many tweets, blogs and video and picture postings may already seem like old news.

Look for another update to come in a few months.

This blog entry was previously published August 17, 2009 on Loyalty Truth.