Ever since Sheryl Connelly, Ford’s futurist, came to speak at our local TEDxRVA in 2013, I’ve been a connoisseur of the Ford brand as well as Sheryl’s annual consumer trend report, Looking Further with Ford, which is always a fascinating read upon release each December.
So I was not at all surprised by the recent news about Ford’s advertising agency shake-up and introduction of a new model which included leaving Britain’s WPP after 75 years and choosing U.S. agency BBDO as creative lead, along with Weiden & Kennedy for innovation projects. WPP will keep the “activation” and media portions of the business so it is not an altogether loss for them but certainly a major blow as the news media has reported.
To me, the critical news was that Ford is adding 100 new in-house marketing positions to invest in areas such as brand design, digital labs, media tools and partnerships. The new in-house agency model is expected to save $150 million annual in efficiencies, with an “increased focus on emerging advertising tools and technology to create more personalized brand marketing,” according to Adweek’s October 8th report.
The efficiency estimate of saving $150M seems conservative. I wouldn’t be too surprised if Ford doesn’t recognize $250M or even upwards of $500M in savings by bringing more digital work under the internal marketing team umbrella. An in-house team can move faster and be more nimble due to a variety of factors such as deeply understanding the brand, having easy access to cross-functional experts and resources, efficient approval systems, readily available digital assets as well as available upskilling often required as part of performance reviews.
As digital transformation and customer-centric agendas become the norm, it takes bold moves like Ford’s new global brand marketing approach to reinvent and reinvigorate the company at a time when the Millennial and GenZ markets are shifting to Uber, self-driving cars, and reduced desire for ownership overall.
Ford is demonstrating that it knows how to pivot, especially with it’s decision earlier this year to center on the truck/SUV market with the exception of the Mustang and Active crossover. Transformation and return to profitability is hard and requires everything to be “on the table” as reported by Chief Financial Officer Bob Shanks to Fortune magazine back in April.
Ford is definitely a brand to watch. It’ll be interesting to see how the brand and the advertising take shape over the next year. For now, it appears Ford is laser-focused and I certainly trust that much of that epicenter stems from the hiring of a futurist years ago who has helped them think forward about the future of mobility. Who knows what Ford will build next? They certainly seem to be carving out a distinct competitive advantage and a leading edge in potentially declining automotive industry.