Alisa Priddle/ The Detroit News Dearborn — Ford Motor Co. is launching its first marketing campaign dedicated to action sports to better connect with younger buyers, specifically Millennials who represent the second-largest group of car buyers after baby boomers. The Ford Octane Academy campaign kicks off with a video contest to choose fans of drifting, rally cross, stage rally and off-road racing for four-day fantasy camps run by champions well-known to fans of the X Games, video games and online Gymkhana stunt driving videos. The camp participants will compete against each other. Ford’s action team consists of rally cross champ and “Top Gear” host Tanner Foust who will feature the Focus; Formula drift champ Vaughn Gittin Jr. who drives a Mustang; X Games off-road racing star Brian Deegan who drives a Ford F-150 Raptor; and Ken Block, stage rally champion and Gymkhana star whose latest Fiesta video has garnered 33 million views. The winner of each camp will get a one-of-a-kind vehicle. “It’s a great way to connect with younger buyers,” said John Felice, general marketing manager. The automaker’s data shows 39 percent of car shoppers see themselves as motorsports fans and the likelihood they will buy a Ford is 50 percent higher if they are a racing fan, Felice said. Ford’s motorsports history dates back 110 years. Millennials, who live online, follow the X Games for their motorsports and the fan base is 2.8 million, said Jamie Allison, director of North America Motorsports. They consist of older teens and people in their 20s. Felice said motorsports is more integrated within the company and its marketing message than ever. It helps that top executives such as Jim Farley, group vice president of marketing, sales and service, are big motorsports fans. Farley would not specify how much Ford is investing in this campaign, but did say 25 percent of Ford’s total marketing budget is being spent on digital social media. In the past, Ford was slow to connect with Millennials, Farley said. But Ford’s market share of this group has increased 58 percent since 2007. To further endear itself, Ford will be the exclusive auto sponsor of the X Games later this month in Los Angeles. Millennials “have a huge BS meter,” Farley said. They appreciate heroes like the drivers who are genuinely passionate about their racing styles and share their moments online, he said. Ford is taking video submissions for the Octane Academy contest. There is an Oct. 15 deadline for the first fantasy camp, an off-road contest with Deegan set for November. Deegan, who started by racing motorcycles and broke a lot of bones and lost a few organs before switching to pickups with roll cages, said he is looking for characters with skills and a good television personality. The other three fantasy camps will be next year. Drifting champ Gittin Jr. said he is looking for contestants who are hungry enough to climb a mountain naked or crawl through mud with barbed wire. The videos cannot show driving but should show personality and other skills. “A hundred years ago. I’m not sure Henry Ford could have envisioned what we’re doing today but he would have understood it,” said Jim Owens, Mustang brand manager.
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