Marketing: See a Puppet, Buy a Car.

OMG: What Marketers Want from us in their social media campaigns.

Watch the puppet. Like me. Buy the car. That is what some may think Ford wants us to do as a result of its latest social media campaign. And truth be told, that is just what the company is trying to do.

Ford recently introduced a social media campaign centered around an orange puppet named Doug to drive fresh interest in the Ford Focus. The idea behind the social online campaign is to create humorous, if not slightly misogynistic, short videos that feature Doug with Ford employees, one of whom is a woman, in various scenarios from a press release to a test drive. The videos are well done and do a good job of creating humor while actually teaching you something about the car itself.

This one is the "announcement" of Doug as a "spokesperson" for the Focus. You will get what I mean about the slightly off-color approach.

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Here is another where Doug is getting a "walk-around" of the Focus and hitting on the female Ford employee.

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Another featuring more of the same but this time around the interior of the car.

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All in all, very entertaining, particularly for a young male, though I admit that it made me smile here and there, too.

But what is the point of this? In general, social media is a relatively new development. And even though many companies have allocated people and big money to social media efforts on channels such as Youtube, Facebook and Twitter, many have yet to figure out how to make it pay off.

What should the payoff be? Sales, or at least leads, of people interested in buying a car in the near future. Today, the most common measure for companies are "hits" to the page, "likes" on Facebook, sharing of content with "friends", or, in some rare cases, actually leading consumers to e-commerce pages where they can ask for the product and accept a contact from a dealer.

Other less tangible results include simple awareness of the brand, product or service as well as increased consideration. The latter is important because we know people are not constantly shopping for cars. Even so, car companies do not want us to forget them in between purchases. If they do not engage us even when we aren't shopping, they risk being out of our mindset when we are.

Many companies, including Ford, tout success of social media efforts. In fact, the budget to launch the Fiesta was incredibly high relative to what most companies spend in the social media arena. It was very low, though, when compared with what TV time costs, which made it incredibly efficient.

Still, social media, while the latest and most talked about "thing to do" is also full of potential pitfalls.

Across town from Ford, Chrysler was also employing social media to build consumer engagement with its brand--and hopefully generate more sales, consideration, or even just conversation--when a now infamous mishap took place.

A member of their social media agency mistakenly posted a tweet on the Chrysler Twitter page, instead of his own Twitter account, that unfortunately included an obscenity. Specifically, it read, "I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the motor-city, and yet no one here knows how to f***ing drive." In America, we find the use of the "f" word extremely shocking. But, in truth, the message did not degrade Chrysler, nor even the city of Detroit.

Social media is tricky in that it is not a traditional medium. It is also not for the brands that are faint of heart. Social media is gritty. It is real, unfiltered and sometimes it contains the "f" bomb. When a brand chooses to engage in this medium, they choose to play among the real people, and are therefore subject to the fact that "truisms", intended or not, may from time to time, come out in their very colorful language.

Bob Garfield, in an article he wrote for Ad Age, said of the Chrysler tweet that, "(this is) the way social media is supposed to be, because the whole point of it is to discard archaic and abrasive concepts of messaging in favor of actual conversations. Not stilted conversations based on 140-character ads -- because those branded tweets are just twam (spam+tweet=twam) -- but actual exchanges among flesh-and-blood non-automatons."

His point: maybe the f-bomb is okay, even when it is not done on purpose, as a way of letting the consumer know that your stuff isn't all "twam" and marketing-speak.

As I mentioned, the social media agency, New Media Strategies, got the boot from Chrysler over the episode. I don't agree with the decision. If you want to play in this social media "ecosystem," then you have to be prepared for these events. I am not advocating a regular diet of offensive language or tasteless posts, of which we have too many already on the internet, but instead a system where the risks are appreciated and the potential benefits understood.

Had Chrysler taken a deep breath before their knee-jerk reaction, they may have seen that the offending tweet, in concert with their highly successful Eminem Chrysler ad from the Super Bowl, could have been leveraged to further their positioning. Instead, the company seemed to retreat from that cool, contemporary stance taken in the Super Bowl ad, and reverted back to corporate stiffness.

In the case of Ford, the company is bound to get a few nasty comments about its Doug videos, but I expect that it is prepared. In fact, if Ford is trying to reach a young male audience, which would seem obvious by the content, then the company may be willing to assume some risk, albeit a small one, that will come from angry tweets, posts, or mentions about this new Doug content.

Will Ford fire the agency or the campaign manager for such responses? Let's hope not. Because if you want to play among the people, and that is exactly where social media plays, then you have to play by the rules of the people. Giving up control to your customer is not always a bad thing. You just have to be willing to do it.

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