The campaign is the brainchild of Portland, Ore.-based Wieden + Kennedy, which also hatched Nike's controversial "Dream Crazy" ads featuring former NFL star Colin Kaepernick and Chrysler's "Imported From Detroit" post-bankruptcy campaign starring rapper Eminem. The agency has also done work for Honda and Dodge.
The tagline "Built Ford Proud" echoes the well-known "Built Ford Tough" campaign that Ford has employed for more than 40 years and will run alongside it, Ford spokesman Said Deep said. But experts applauded the company for broadening its wings beyond the latter truck-focused campaign.
"Ford's using this to change the nature of the campaign as it progresses from 'Built Ford Tough' to 'Built Ford Proud,' and it gives it longer legs, it gives it a chance to extend itself, to put the brand on a different footing," said Mike Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. "The fact that Ford is premiering its most powerful Mustang ever in the next couple of months, that Ford pride will certainly extend there. They're probably ready for a change, and I think what they're trying is appropriate."
Bernacchi said the "Proud" tagline is more universal than the more specific adjective "Tough," adding that "Ford will be able to extend its brand horizon beyond its current limited scope."
Brian Sheehan, professor of advertising at the Newhouse School at Syracuse University and an ad-industry veteran, said the campaign establishes "a very good message for Ford."
"It obviously shares DNA with 'Built Ford Tough,' but that campaign was about toughness, which is a great message for trucks," he said. "This message is more about the pride of the company (the master brand) in manufacturing and engineering. Ford is emphasizing that in a world of talk, and a world where many brands are based on intangibles, they build things, important things, and they build them well. This message is about the corporate pride in making important things."
While the campaign doesn't overtly wade into politics, its Americana references (see: the Big Boy statue. Also: TRUCKS.) root it firmly in the fractured political climate of 2018.
"Brands selling pricey goods must make an emotional connection with consumers to garner preference and, eventually, conversion," Tracy Arrington, media director for Blackboard Co. and a lecturer at the Stan Richard School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Texas, said in an email. "An auto buyer now waits, on average, more than 10 years between car purchases, so the impression given by auto manufacturers during that decade must resonate with consumer sentiment over the course of time. A tricky task in 2018.
"Though Ford's new campaign tip-toes on the edge of politics, it isn't nearly as partisan as Nike's recent work with Colin Kaepernick. ... Instead, it attempts to connect with consumers using common ground.
"Everyone in the U.S., in every tribe, is tired of the talk. The arguments. The lack of progress. A departure from 'Built Ford Tough,' this campaign is still an appeal to common middle-American values — the values of people that buy trucks."
Indeed, one of the new print ads uses the slogan, "Born in Detroit, Made in America and Famous Worldwide." Which reminds Bernacchi of Chrysler's wildly successful "Imported from Detroit" campaign.
"I think this is an excellent message to be touting right now with the more nationalist ideas carrying weight in the political and regulator arenas," he said. "Also, it shows a very globalized company acknowledging its worldwide presence while letting everyone know where its roots are."