Part Two - Ford Focus Rally: America - The Opaque Time-Bomb

That being said I crafted the following message to the head of Ford Motor Company's social media efforts, the highly respected and sought-after Scott Monty:

Greetings Mr. Monty,

My name is Justice Mitchell and I'm the VP Interactive Creative Director (and social media head) for Starmark International. I was one of many people that has gone through casting for the Focus Rally America. However, today I approach you from one social media professional to another regarding the programming and strategic vision for the campaign.

Let me start be saying that I'm not a fly-by-night weekend web designer. I've worked as the ICD for campaigns such as Audi's "The Art of the Heist" (with McKinney), the design of the Chevy Time Square Glockenspiel and "Who is Benjamin Stove" for the 'Live Green Go Yellow' launch of E85 flex fuel (with Campbell Ewald) in all GM automobiles. That being said, and modest integrity intact, I hope I've still held your attention for the remainder of the message.

I'm concerned that the Focus Rally is starting off on the wrong foot. For the past month or so I decided that the best tactic (as I too have been playing for a team) is to take the position of 'owning the conversation.' Just as I would have done in an ARG, I would be able to nurture the engagement process, build buzz, dispel and create rumors actively, all the while being the constant creative and social conduit. Well I anticipated that the show would have also a modicum of transparency as I've been accustom to my previous playbooks . Nothing could be further from the truth and as with all human interaction that is competitive it's beginning to spoil. People are beginning to fain interest and turn on the idea behind the program.

Everyday I answer a standard set of questions:

• I've heard that teams have been chosen, is that true?
• I hear that teams are being cast from acting pools and not on the social clout.
• I've heard that teams are being told to boost their numbers by casting to look more appealing to Ford, is that true?
• I've heard that some people are being cut by email.

...and of course ~
• Do you work for Ford?

The last one, which of course is my favorite, as I'd very much like to work in your role. That being said I always say that "no, I do not work on behalf of Ford Motor Company - (with the caveat) I wish I did."

I additionally, have played out multiple channels of influence having setup the Focus Rally America Facebook "Page" as well, which acts as a lovely conduit for traffic into the group boards. I've done my best to keep that one very pro-product with minimal game chatter. That's not the area that concerns me, it is however your currently active fan base. You know as well as I do what 300 influencers can do. These folks need some type of conversation that will keep them obsessing over the program and ultimately deliver on good old fashion word-of-mouth and brand loyalty.

I too have been hoping to be selected, well knowing that regardless of outcome you will indeed make the largest social media advertising impact to date. Why wouldn't I want to be part of that history? But given what little that derived from the practices of your casting and programming, it seems that what you're going to have is the forgone conclusion of The Amazing Race on wheels ‚ I hope not. I really do.

I've resigned myself to carrying the torch for your brand and keeping morale alive until casting is complete but I'm wondering if this is all part of the plan? If you're unaware of what's going on? Or you simply know that it will be successful based on Amazing Race fans propensity to stay within this vertical. Either way, I hope you're right. I thought about reaching out before now but I truly believed that there would be more to share, more engagement, more social fabric to the start of this journey for these folks that hasn't seem to come.

I'm more than willing and able to help you right the ship if this message comes as a concern to you. I've reached out to Ms. Apploff (the casting director hired for this program) in hopes that she could give me a 'state of the union' to keep people social motivated but as of yet have heard nothing. Thank you for taking the time out in your busy schedule for this communication. I hope this email find you and yours well. All my best to you, now and in your future endeavors.

JusticeMitchell.com

Addendum:
I'm also willing to turn the administrative right of both accounts to your team, if and when you see fit.

...

Since that time I've not even received as much as a peep. Sad really because let's do the math:

Facebook has an average user-base of 130 friends, and that being said, at the time of this post there were 333 members on the Focus Rally America Group on Facebook.

That's 130 x 333 = 43,290 people that more than likely knew someone that was involved in this campaign and was awaiting some kind of news, positive or negative and got nothing. Let me not begin to say that I would speculate that 130 is exceptionally low for most of the people that would have signed onto a social media reality show. But I think it's safe to say that 50,000 people are wondering if their friends are going to be on a show or not and soon they will have an unpleasant friend (as is the case now) with the backlash of its silence.

50,000 Supporters

I will say this it's a shame too that the means and methods by which the casting has been managed thus far could easily derail the momentum trail before it reaches the first station of what could be many.  Your audience for this level of event could be huge and, as I mentioned earlier, I know more educated people in the 30-40 range that are interested in this vehicle than those in the 20-30 demographic.  These are professional people who expect professional project delivery and do not have the patience to spend hours simply trying to find out what is going on and the current status of the program.  People are interested in buying an American car that gets great gas mileage and will augment their personal fleet of vehicles, which often already includes an SUV.  It is possible to succeed after stumbling out of the blocks but so far, I am not sure you realize the stumble has occurred.  Therein lies the largest problem.  The idea is stellar and could be an enormous success, but right now there is far too much confusion and very little transparency.  The beauty of this campaign is the sheer volume of work that participants will generate for free.  Where else can you say this is the case in the realm of advertising? It also seems that simply because you're a big brand and you’re tying yourself with an equally respected entertainment brand doesn't guarantee success. Don't preach "earned media" and do nothing to acquire it. In the constantly evolving world of social media one can never assume‚ we make it, they will come‚ this is 2010, not 1975.

In the end it will probably be successful, people won't care how it all started but there are other brands out there that will read this and not make the same mistakes.

But wait there's more!

And just when I thought this post was ready for prime time something happened that I didn't expect. Scott Monty the head of Ford's social media efforts popped up on the grid.

When I first read his Facebook post I was pleased to see that they were beginning to communicate. Later I found out that he had made another statement on a page that I had created and in effect calling the page and its content on this "non-Ford approved or administered page" Facebook page. This took a while to sink in. It took a while to realize that Ford didn't see that I've spent months creating brand awareness for them. That all of us had created a sense of place for the fans of the show where there wasn't one.

That we had done what ANYONE in this social industry would have done that wanted to be proactive and participate would do:
• I created conversation.
• I supported the brand.
• I educated the consumer on the product and its offerings.
• I built anticipation for the show.

You cannot invite a 300 farmers into a fertile field, tell them nothing and expect them not to grow something.
When we launched the Audi A3 campaign called "The Art Of The Heist," one of many ways that we measured success was the communities, conversations and content that was developed external to the actual campaign production. THIS IS EARNED MEDIA!!! THIS IS FREE obsession, free conversation, and free social media! Did I mention we did all this before there was twitter and on a fraction of the budget I can guarantee you.

In the end I've opted out of the Ford Focus Rally America. I'm sure not to Ford's dismay. I've given Scott Monty both properties as I had promised - I hope the Ford Motor Company takes the feelings and opinions of 50,000 people seriously. I know I did. All they ever wanted to do is be communicated to. All they ever wanted was a brand to feed their passion. Too bad it has not happened to date. And I can imagine what we've all invested in sweat equity, if you tallied my day rate I can assure you, that group page has earned that 2012 Ford Focus ST - ten fold.

Lastly, I will send a message to all the brands in the future thinking that something like Ford's "Focus Rally: America" is right for them. In concept it's a smart masterful idea. Wrapping entertainment around the social media; it's the future of all advertising as we know it. What's most important in this equation is YOU MUST be 100% authentic, you must communicate with everyone from the top executive to the beginner that doesn't know where to post their photos. You cannot simply preach from your own bible and people believe it so.

One last thing, it's poor form in my humble opinion to refer to your fans and supporters as "Spam" and threaten them with exclusion. Or am I simply being petty?