Ford plans online reality show rally to promote 2012 Focus

It’s building on success with social media
BY BRENT SNAVELY
FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

Ford said Monday that it plans to build on its recent social media and online marketing success with a reality show called “Focus: Rally America” that will be streamed onto Hulu, an online video service that offers hit TV shows and movies for free — but with commercials — in February.

The show, which will promote the 2012 Ford Focus compact car, will be produced by the same team that produces “The Amazing Race” for CBS.

Six teams of two will compete in a five-week race for a $100,000 prize.

Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing, said Ford wanted to take ideas from the company’s successful campaigns for the Focus and Ford Explorer SUV and apply them to the Focus.

In 2009, Ford gave Fiestas to 100 so-called Fiesta agentsfor six months and encouraged them to post blogs, photos and videos on social media Web sites. For the Explorer, Ford created a page on Facebook, where it leaked teaser photos and gained nearly 40,000 friends before it revealed the new SUV on the site and in several major U.S. cities.

With “Focus: Rally America,” VanDyke said Ford’s goal is to continue to work to change consumer perceptions of the Ford brand with an emphasis on the technology in the car.

“It takes the very best elements of Fiesta Movement … and combines that with the world-class quality of a reality program,” VanDyke said.

Ford also plans to use the show to convince viewers that the Focus is technologically advanced.

During the challenges, the driving teams will need to use social networks on the Internet to find clues that are part of their challenges. Viewers might be able to exchange messages or talk to the contestants.

Elise Doganieri, co-creator of “The Amazing Race,” predicted that viewers will be impressed with the Focus.

“When I think of Ford, I have a certain idea in my mind of what a Ford is, and these cars are very unlike anything that’s out there. They are very high-tech,” Doganieri said.

Though Ford declined to say how much it expects to spend, Mike Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy, said the approach is cost-effective, compared with the millions advertisers pay for short TV commercials during events like the Super Bowl.

“Ford is creating these big splashy events on their own terms,” Bernacchi said.

Ford is accepting applications for the show through mid-November at http://www.focusrally.com. People also can apply in person at auditions in cities including Austin, Texas; Boston, Chicago, Denver, Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, New York, Orlando, Seattle and Tampa.

“We are looking for big personalities,” VanDyke said. “Somebody who is not afraid to be on camera.”

Ford is launching the 2012 globally next March, but “Focus: Rally America” is occurring only in the U.S.

Separately, Ford is accepting applications for a global test drive for the Focus and is planning to pick 100 people who will get an opportunity to test-drive the Focus in southern France next year.

Contact BRENT SNAVELY: 313-222-6512 or bsnavely@freepress.com

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