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Customer is New Ford Focus - but Carmaker Angers Researchers

October 12 2007

In the US, Ford Motor Company has a new marketing supremo, Jim Farley, charged with 'bringing the voice of the customer in' to the auto giant. Meanwhile one of the company's ad campaigns has angered researchers by setting up a fake survey firm.

This week, Ford appointed former Toyota and Lexus Marketing leader Farley as its Group VP of Marketing and Communications, after a long search. Farley served as Head of Marketing for Toyota and most recently as General Manager of Lexus North America. At Toyota, he was noted for his focus on using knowledge of customer needs to steer the production process.

CEO Alan Mulally told the Detroit News (www.detnews.com ) that he wants Farley 'to really help me take the marketing capability and that functional expertise to a new level of performance inside Ford, to bring the voice of the customer in - their wants, their needs, what they value - and to use that to help us design cars and trucks they value.' Ford has never had a corporate head of marketing but Mulally says times are changing: 'This is a big deal, because it means that marketing - the product, the place, the promotion, the price - is a really important part of the business and they're at the table. They're part of the team.'

Farley will work closely with Ford's global product development leader, Derrick Kuzak, but will find conditions very different to those at Toyota, whose marketing budget is far larger than Ford and whose inroads into the US carmaker's market share have contributed to its recent problems - sales are down 13.3% so far this year according to the latest stats.

Any research providers hoping to benefit from the new customer focus will however first have to get over their objections to the company's recent set of 'Swap Your Ride' commercials, which have raised the ire of the profession by setting up a fake market research firm, In Home Test Drive Experience LLC.

The ads, filmed by Academy Award winner Jessica Yu and created by ad agency JWT / Team Detroit, feature around 80 consumers in Miami, Los Angeles, New York and Dallas, who were told they were taking part in marketing research. Yu, who says the approach was intended to 'orchestrate a situation that would elicit honest reactions from our participants', reportedly asked crews to wear a fake uniform with marketing company logos on shirts.

Research blogs have expressed their disappointment with the company and the US industry representative body CMOR is working on a formal response. The tactic has been compared to 'sugging' and concern expressed about the potential loss of public confidence in research.

One of Farley's key objectives will be to reverse other negative perceptions of the firm and its US competitors, revealed in another piece of deceptive research reported recently in the Wall Street Journal (www.wsj.com ). Auto specialist CNW Market Research has apparently been 'playing tricks' on would-be car buyers, removing identifying marks from Toyotas and telling them they're new US models, or the reverse with de-badged US vehicles. Either way, CNW's media man VP Art Spinella told the paper, the result is the same: 'If they think it's an American car, the perception of the vehicle falls dramatically.'

Web sites: www.ford.com and www.cmor.org.

All articles 2006-20 written and edited by Mel Crowther and/or Nick Thomas unless otherwise stated.

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