Part Three - Ford Focus Rally: America - The Beginning Of The End

So, moments before I was going to post the last and final diatribe about the fiasco that has been the Ford Motors Companies' "Focus Rally America," they have announced the teams! If you go to http://focusrally.com, you will now see the six selected teams.

It all seems up and up short of the fact that I wanted to see something more than pretty people and hipsters, but I'm in advertising – I get it. The site is beautifully designed, showing large photos of each team and a breakdown bio of who's who. I've registered -- it was relatively seamless and allowed for me to build my own "sub team" within the team I chose to follow, which I thought was quite brilliant. The scoring mechanism seems basic right now (but fully-functional) and the sharing networks/components are decent. They've done well to start -- game-play with some basic trivia and the ability to get "soft points" for recruitment. All-in-all, a nice presentation, and I would expect nothing less. So my compliments to Razorfish (or so I'm assuming) it's looking awesome!

It's funny, as I wrote the latter half of this post I thought to myself, "man if they get their act together and get online prior to this, I'm going to look like a sore loser." Well in essence I am and I'm not. It's not that I didn't get picked, I didn't think I would when I started speaking up for the social disfunction of the pre-campaign I thought my chances were nil at best. Additionally, I thought the process was so mismanaged that I felt participation would be one and the same. But I am a sore loser in that I thought Ford would take the time to address the remainder of my content and for that I'm still disgruntled.

Brands, advertising agencies and customers -- be careful what you wish for when it comes to social media. I truly thought that I would never be talking about this campaign again, but since the time of my posts, I've stayed in pretty consistent contact with many of the social media professionals that I met during the time. While running the community and group boards for the Ford touted "unofficial" Focus Rally America pages on Facebook, I learned a great deal of what to and what NOT to do in social media, especially pertaining to a "community." Well, needless to say -- as I had prognosticated, the Ford Motor Company and their social media department have done nothing. Let me repeat that: "nothing" to fix the issues that arouse during the time I left. Until today of course.

Why, I cannot get my head around this as I did what I thought was right and gave them the keys to the castle. "Hey guys you invited all these great social minds to this party and I think it's best you take over the reigns and talk them up and get them excited as I don't have any real content for them." So I gave over administrative control to the Facebook communities I had developed. And let me tell you, I'm not one to bitch and run, either. If you have a grievance in life, leave it with the tools to correct itself and make the world a better place. I thought I'd given them pretty clear directive on options to salvage these issues. Everyone's primary complaint was that no one knew when selections for casting where being made. OK, I get that the Ford Motor Company didn't want to tell anyone that. But there are ways still to talk to a crowd that wants one thing -- give them something else to get excited about. You don't tell your kids what you got them for Christmas, do you? But you get them excited that Santa's coming and that the family will all be together to enjoy the holidays.

This, again, got me thinking about things I had learned in the past. Peter Jackson did something incredible savvy when filming 'The Lord Of The Rings' Trilogy (LOTR). He knew there's no way in hell that he could ever really make a complete film about the books because there was simply too much content there. So, smartly (oh, and before "social media" might I add), he reached out to LOTR fans, fan sites, forums, groups and conventions and asked people to participate in social discussion on how best to truncate the film without losing any of the primary messaging. What are key moments? Who are key players? What are turning points, twists and highlights that cannot be missed? Well, I can imagine that these points were debated Ad nauseam to the sound of rolling ten-sided die and pewter figures sliding across tables, but nonetheless, they felt a part of something bigger. This is where the Ford Motor Company and their social media department have failed. The have failed to communicate anything. They have failed to make people with a great deal of social prowess and understanding feel that they are part of something bigger.

"We won't do casting till January!" So says the wizard. And now what -- you wait?

Well, I can tell you, Ford Motor Company and their social media department a little secret, people really don't like to wait  -- especially technologically sound people that have an attention span quicker than hitting the delete key. But to the brands out there that are thinking about constructing a social media campaign, fear not. The rules are quite simple, actually:

  • Don't set it and forget it  (e.i. - Ford Motor Company and their social media department)
  • Address questions, comments and concerns honestly and within a timely format. Also, if it's secret, just tell them it is and leave it at that.
  • If you make the rules, you must also abide by them.
  • Keep talking to them, share your brand excitement with them and make the process infectious.
  • Bring key players (the smartest of the smart) into the fold as moderators, bloggers and brand representatives.
  • Incentivize loyalists with coupons, product or behind-the-scenes 'sneak peeks.' A properly placed leak can be a very viral thing.
  • Advocate they bring the network into the fold.
  • Seek feedback. You don't have to do anything with it but you just might find some very good ideas out of the process.
  • Make decisions and report them.
  • Never tell your network what to say and even worse what not to say.
  • Let the group take care of chaos unless it beings to alienate the community and then address it immediately.
  • Be grateful to your followers and invite them to grow with you in future campaigns.
  • I like free t-shirts. Just a fact, nothing more, I'll send you my address.

Another important point about Ford Motor Company and their social media department is that you cannot predicate a campaign around certain rules only find that they don't serve you well and then just change them without telling anyone. God, in hindsight, it feels so dirty and trite I want to take a whore-bath but I guess I'm no different than anyone that wants to see themselves on the web.

"We were told in the middle of November that we could no longer promote or mention the show on any of our social networks...hence the silence." -- And even more recently discovered most all the participants where sorted and ranked well before the "last day of entry" with the LA Auto Show that the main site claimed. This, again, goes against the social grain as there's so much more that could have been done for buzz with the excitement that comes from being selected. What this means is Ford was blatantly milking the hopes of the remaining contestants when they should have been honest and drawning interest on the program from participants in other ways.

Lastly, you can paint this as an online reality show. It's not. It's "in content branding" or whatever you'd like. The long fall here is that you wouldn't be doing it if it didn't make the car the hero. It's advertising pure and simple. You're not doing this for the good of the people. You're not curing cancer. Let's finally be honest here, I think everyone deserves it and will be happier with the brand in it's honesty. You're doing this to increase awareness of the redesign, features and benefits or the car and entice the consumer to bracket the 2012 Ford Focus within their "consideration set." While no, it won't be a thirty-minute preach session, it's no different than Jeep creating a "Black Ops Edition" or Toyota's God-forsaken Terminator T3 edition pickup. Ford Motor Company and their social media department had it right to reach out to professional social practitioners. We understand brand. We understand social etiquette. We understand the various technologies, AND we understand how quickly the backlash can be if issues, comments, feedback, concerns are not addressed. I'm done with this and I'm sure you all couldn't be happier.

That being said now you must join my Focus Rally America team (nicknamed Team "KOI") so we can watch this pig fly. Call me a hypocrite, but I do know that I'm going to learn as much from this campaign as I can. Part of embracing social technologies is also knowing that sometimes you can cannot make the technology do what you wished it would, so you must simply learn from what you've done – I hope Ford has.

Posted on January 6, 2011 and filed under Advertising, Soapbox, Social Media, Technology.