Selling Ford Around the World, From Detroit

By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: November 11, 2010
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CloseLinkedinDiggMixxMySpaceYahoo! BuzzPermalink THE senior creative executive at Team Detroit, the consortium of WPP units that works on the Ford Motor account in North America, is getting a new role with a worldwide focus.

Toby Barlow, executive vice president and chief creative officer at Team Detroit, is assuming the new responsibilities of chief creative officer at Global Team Ford. He will continue to work alongside George S. Rogers, who is president and chief executive at Team Detroit, as well as the Ford Motor global client leader for WPP.

Mr. Barlow “will be in charge of the Ford work globally,” Mr. Rogers said in an interview during a recent visit to New York, “and be the guy to work with the creative teams and sign off on all the global launches” of new Ford Motor products.

The new role for Mr. Barlow, who is 44, comes as WPP makes plans to form regional hubs next year modeled after Team Detroit, which will handle Ford campaigns in other major markets. The change also comes as Ford Motor — one of the world’s biggest advertisers, with a budget estimated at $4 billion a year — seeks to build on its recent momentum, achieved despite the global economic slump, and keep selling more cars and trucks.

Team Detroit — based in Dearborn, Mich., near the Ford worldwide headquarters — was opened in 2006 by bringing together five WPP agencies that worked for Ford in Canada, Mexico and the United States: JWT, Mindshare, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Wunderman and Y&R.

The intent was to have a single management structure with a single profit and loss, increasing the effectiveness of WPP’s efforts for Ford Motor — not to mention being more efficient from a cost perspective for both WPP and its client.

Last spring, the three WPP agencies that handled Ford in Europe — Mindshare, Ogilvy and Wunderman — formed an agency named Blue Hive that is styled after Team Detroit.

The plans for 2011 call for a hub for the Asia-Pacific region, to be based in Shanghai, and a hub for Latin America, which may be in São Paulo, Brazil.

Team Detroit was born because WPP decided that “we had to start doing things in a transformative way,” Mr. Rogers said, to help Ford Motor after a spate of difficulties in competing against other large automakers.

“We’d been steeped in this world of bad karma for four or five years,” Mr. Rogers recalled. “We had to change the narrative.”

Under Mr. Barlow’s purview, Team Detroit has created successful campaigns for the Ford division in the United States that carry the theme “Drive one,” introduced models like the Fiesta and Fusion, reintroduced a revamped Explorer and promoted local Ford dealers with Mike Rowe, the star of the reality series “Dirty Jobs,” appearing in ads as a low-key pitchman.

Team Detroit has also created popular campaigns for Ford trucks that feature the actor Denis Leary declaiming in his trademark “rant” style; the ads for the 2011 models were introduced last week. And for the Lincoln division of Ford Motor, Team Detroit recently created a well-received campaign with the actor John Slattery, who plays the adman Roger Sterling on the series “Mad Men.”

Last month, the trade publication Advertising Age named Ford Motor as marketer of the year for 2010, citing the company’s sales comeback under James D. Farley, group vice president for global marketing, sales and service.

“Any agency is only as good as the client lets them be,” Mr. Barlow said in a phone interview from his office.

“We’re fortunate with Jim Farley to be pushed and challenged,” he added. “It’s a good kind of challenge.”

Mr. Barlow arrived in the Detroit area in 2006 after serving as executive creative director at the JWT New York office, where his duties included working on the Ford Motor account. His previous experience included creating ads for the Saturn division of General Motors at Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco.

“I think I was pretty skeptical” of the Team Detroit concept at first, Mr. Barlow said. “You’d walk in a room and say, ‘He’s with Y&R; he’s with Ogilvy,’ and you’re all sitting together. It was weird.”

As results were achieved, Mr. Barlow said, it became clear that “the whole would be equal to more than the sum of the parts.”

In addition to tapping the resources of the WPP agencies that compose Team Detroit, Mr. Barlow can invite shops from outside the WPP empire to collaborate with him if he deems that worthwhile. For instance, Mutt Industries, a boutique in Portland, Ore., is working on a coming campaign for the Ford Explorer.

Of course, not everything Team Detroit handles has turned out well. Its work could not stem the sales decline for the Mercury line of cars sold by Ford Motor; the brand will be discontinued at the end of the year.

Still, “the metrics we see on the Ford business, and the metrics I see in my business, are pretty darn good,” Mr. Rogers said.

A continued focus by Ford Motor on the quality of its products “is how to keep the momentum going,” he added.

As 2010 comes to a close, ad spending by automakers in the United States “is recovering,” Mr. Rogers said. “We see some positive momentum,” he added, generated by, among others, General Motors and Toyota Motor.

Ford Motor spent $1.4 billion to advertise in major media in the United States in 2007, according to the Kantar Media unit of WPP, then fell 31.5 percent to $966.3 million in 2008 as the financial crisis made itself felt. Last year, Kantar Media reported, spending rose 8.9 percent from 2008, to $1.05 billion.

As for this year, according to Kantar Media, in the first six months Ford Motor spent $530.4 million, up 10.9 percent from the $478.4 million spent in the same period a year ago.

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