New 'Built Ford Proud' ad campaign puts Blue Oval on offense

Ford shows new products, restructuring plans to dealers in Las Vegas

LAS VEGAS — Ford this week unveiled a defiant new ad campaign dubbed "Built Ford Proud," sharing previews ahead of its nationwide debut during a conference where more than 3,000 U.S. and Canadian dealers got their first look at several key new products in the pipeline and what the company's so-called "operational fitness" plans might actually look like.

Company officials say "Built Ford Proud" is a more holistic, brand-encompassing play on its longstanding "Built Ford Tough" campaign, which mostly applied to its F-Series line of trucks. Set to debut Saturday online and during college football telecasts, the ads feature the appearance and voiceovers of actor Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad"), who first appeared in a Ford Super Bowl ad two years ago.

They come at an important time for the automaker, which has seen its investment rating downgraded to near junk status and its stock price dip below $9 in recent weeks to a post-Great Recession low, as investors question Ford's plans for how to shore up slumping sales overseas and catch up in segments like electric vehicles. The ads appear to take swipes at brash upstarts like Tesla, and they trade on the company's 115-year legacy and family ownership. In one 60-second spot, Cranston says from behind the wheel, "Let the other guys keep dreaming about the future. We'll be the ones building it." Another ad shows F-Series trucks past and present towing construction equipment, parade floats, a giant donut sign and even the Big Boy statue to the strains of Jerry Reed's classic 1977 country tune "East Bound and Down."

The ads, by Portland, Ore.-based Widen + Kennedy, were developed with help from Ford's Marketing Dealer Advisory Board and are set to run through 2019. They're meant to reflect the brand's confidence and swagger ahead of the release of a slew of new nameplates and new versions of existing vehicles, and they signal that Ford is going on offense.

"When you've had a moment like we have as a company, you have to look in the mirror and say, 'What can we do, what can we change to make it better,'" Jim Farley, Ford's executive vice president and president of global markets, told reporters invited to share details from the conference.

At the conference, dealers saw the all-new 2020 Escape and Explorer, a new battery-electric performance utility vehicle also set for 2020 (Farley said dealers gave it a "standing O"), the Mustang Shelby GT500 and other prototype models Ford is keeping under wraps. They also got to ride in the 2019 Ranger midsize pickup, which starts production later this month and goes on sale early next year. Other new products planned include the new F-Series Super Duty truck, Transit full-size van and the revived Bronco nameplate, which Ford will use to go after Jeep's dominance in the off-road segment.

Company execs say those new products mean the average age of Ford's vehicle portfolio will drop from 5.3 years old today to 2.3 years old by 2020 as Ford prepares to replace 75 percent of its U.S. lineup in two years. "They recognize how young our fleet is going to be," Farley said of the dealers.

Ford says it's also set to introduce a new focus on customer experience in 2019 to build on the strong brand loyalty among Ford customers. It modeled its new customer-loyalty program modeled after similar initiatives at companies like Toyota, Delta and Starbucks, to be launched through its FordPass app early next year. The program will allow customers to earn points that can be used toward sales, service and other offers. In addition, it will involve the use of data analytics to identify and target existing customers for what Farley called "private offers," rather than using blanket incentives to woo new-to-the-brand buyers into showrooms.

The company is also planning to embed modems into all new models to make them connected cars, and will cut time from order to delivery from 82 days to 38. This will free up working capital and gain more feedback from dealers on which vehicles are selling, reducing time spent on lots and allowing Ford to be more nimble to meet customer demand.

Elsewhere, executives outlined plans to rejigger Ford's internal operations, part of CEO Jim Hackett's plans to cut $25 billion in costs by 2022. Kumar Galhotra, group vice president and president of Ford North America, said the company knows it has too many layers and needs to flatten its structure to be efficient. So far, it's responded in part by converting traditional offices into what it calls "franchise rooms" — 13 devoted to products like the F-150, and four devoted to processes such as customer experience. Each room offers reference walls containing reams of information — everything from incentives and loyalty rates to manufacturing capacity utilization and material costs — to make it more accessible to cross-functional teams.

"Having it all clearly visually displayed, what it has done is raised the level of what I call the business literacy for the entire team, so they can speak each other's language and come up with new ideas," Galhotra said.

Related Video:

Share This Photo X