Posts tagged #focus rally america

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, 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.

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.

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?

Part One - Ford Focus Rally: America - A Social Failure?

I will start by saying that I look for the good in most things and rarely do I give constructive criticism without request. This being said, I've been involved in more than a cursory way with the advertising campaign the "Focus Rally: America" and this campaign really stumbled out of the gate. The following post is not simply a constructive criticism of the current campaign, but a tale of a large brand lead by representation that doesn't [really] understand the "social" in social media.

Is this for real?

A great many weeks ago I was approached by a casting producer to try out for a "Social Media" based reality program.  The program was solely designed for updating their approach to, and expanding the audience of, the Ford Motor Company's Focus brand and release of the 2012 model. Ford Motor Company and the producers from "The Amazing Race" have conceived a road rally contest called the "Focus Rally: America"  - In a nutshell the "Focus Rally: America is a five-week program beginning on February 1, 2011. It follows six two-person teams as they drive cross-country and complete a series of challenges partially designed by Bertram van Munster and Elise Doganieri, the creators of The Amazing Race. It will air long-form episodes and short-form videos five times a week on Hulu."

I asked a myriad of questions before even going to the initial casting to see if it was truly legit and every response told me, in no uncertain terms, that they were "looking for people that had large followings on their social media channels" to participate in the program. That they wanted people that live day-to-day within these technologies and could use them to communicate with a broad base audience. Those are my words and I'm probably already giving them more credit than they are due but I digress.

Now before you skip the remainder of this article and write it off as sour grapes, please give the devil (in this case me) his due. Not to mention this is a scenario (as I mentioned prior) that I fear might also plague large brands in the future that try to pull off similar programs of its kind. With that seed firmly planted in your skull allow me to elucidate the issues as I see them.

From this point everything seemed to me as though it had the potential to be the largest social media advertisement to date. As a social media professional who also has an insatiable infatuation with automobiles, why wouldn't I want to be involved? So I did what anyone would do in my position, I strove hell-bent, to "own the conversation" and the public personality of the campaign from the get go.

I was told to select "two or three friends" as potential teammates to come to a closed casting session. Shortly thereafter, the primary website listed an extensive list of dates to hold live casting sessions in highly visible areas of major metropolitan areas. This made total sense to me as I watched the "pre-tease" campaign unfold and I said "that's how I would have done it!" This creates more than just localized interest into the show and starts buzz, it also allows press sources locally to report on something that they feel they have the inside scoop on. That being said, my teammates and I went down to the live event to do our due diligence and get a little user-generated content for a newly created Facebook group page at the same time. The event was as I had thought, mildly populated within the context of the show and the local 'to be seen' restaurant whores right before any Orlando Magic game. So foot traffic was at its peak for the area; this means the media group either did their research or got lucky.  As you will see, I think the latter may be the case based upon decisions made following the live open casting event in Orlando, Florida.

My initial concern over the management of this campaign was born from the understanding that since I'd been cast by phone and given a closed casting date, what was the point of the open casting call other than to generate buzz? Was actual casting going to be had at these events? These "live casting" participants were not told to bring teammates for a potential team. Additionally, I made several attempts to reach out to the casting contact but to no avail regarding the impact of this session. Though the event did not seemingly affect my partners and myself. Days later, I took my two friends Neil Klaproth and Millo Aldea to the casting session. It was regrettably to be the last call of the day and was told after being briefly video taped with Millo (whom I'd chosen to go first with me) that they no longer needed anyone else, sorry. A major strike against you. I get that it's Friday and you want to go party with your girlfriends, but now you're just wasting my time and not acting very professionally. You need to follow through with the requests that you beset prior to the casting.

Pushing on -

Frustration firmly in play, Millo and I reached out to the casting company and asked 'should we' stir up the social pot or just stay put. Can you hear the crickets? That being said, Millo and I pushed on to increase our chances guided by the question ‚ÄúWhat would be the best way to fulfill the desired goal from  the perspective of a social media professional’s? The first step would be to create and deploy influence, buzz and conversation among our desired demographic, and what is that demographic?‚  For the new Ford Focus, this is not an easy question to answer.  Based upon the price point, fuel economy and fun factor, this vehicle is not only for younger folks, but there are many people who have been rethinking their approach to automobile purchasing.  Socially conscious 30 and 40 something’s  are looking to buy American cars with gadgets and great mileage.  The same approach that was taken in launching the Fiesta Movement — expressing the needs of more value to reach this savvier and broader demographic. It made sense to be the center of the attention.

Covering your bases -

Much to my surprise Ford had none of their bases covered. I managed to create @fordfocusrally on Twitter, the Focus Rally Community and the "Group" page at will, with nothing covering the landscape. This would have been social media 101 given that I would have created a campaign of any size. But to think that Ford would leave them socially unprotected was shocking. Fortunately for me it was a Godsend to "own the conversation" and see what could really be done preemptively. With this I created a real home for people that were hungry for information, wanted to talk about the excitement of the cast and what they thought of the potential program. Here was a place where all the teams could talk about who they were, why this was important to them and share in one another's enthusiasm. To think Ford didn't want to be in the center of this as a brand evangelist was mind bending.

Muscle Memory -

Having worked as the creative director for the interactive portion of Audi's "Art Of The Heist" campaign (very pre-social-media) I knew for a fact had we not already put all the elements (pre-seeding, URL's, back-history, etc.) in place to be part of the conversation the campaign would have been a miserable failure. Did I mention that it was a virtual reality game played out in real time? With the car as the hero? Audience participation was so crucial that they literally changed the outcome of the game from what we had planned Sound familiar? So when I saw that the door was open I did a double-take and thought "is this what they want? It makes sense that they [might] be waiting for the audience to create their own world. Or is this a terrible oversight?" Either way as my high school JROTC drill instructor once told me "do you go into battle without your rifle ready son?" - and indeed I would not. The lesson here is planning is everything and you cannot convince me that Ford‚ plan was NOT to do something. I personally feel that this was Ford's ego coming off the success of the "Fiesta Movement" and simply not planning anything, thinking that because they'll put it on TV it will simply create its own buzz.

With our fledgling community in place, the next few weeks contained nothing more than rumor and innuendo. This is standard in the industry, people talk about what they heard, how they interpreted what they heard or simply about what they wish they heard. I felt it was my responsibility, due to my interest in the project, to expand my conversational ownership to provide a forum for myself and others to talk, debate, console and engage people through the process. New teams come online and start meeting other teams. Fans come in and want basic information, and then you even have teams seeding data to be spread. Whether they were smart enough to have planned it or not it typically festers in this fertile conversational Petri dish.

Rumors that where spread during that time were (but not limited to):

  • That casting had been determined long before all the live events were complete.
  • The casting company is pulling in their friends to the show.
  • The producers and casting company are helping select teams with information (such as telling teams to buy followers) to increase the chances with approval from Ford.
  • Casting was done from professional casting calls from acting and modeling studios.
  • Direct contradictions from requests for information about program content, casting selections and scheduling.
  • Telling contestants to add, edit and delete posts and communications.
  • This is solely based on social media clout.
  • That some selected teams are being reprimanded for telling items above.^

The result of this is rumor and innuendo, which  can act in one of two things for a campaign‚ cancer or viral. In the social spectrum a 'cancer' is simply uncontrollable negative viral messaging. Of course a viral message is often the same but if done correctly you can manage the expectation of it. The problem is one of transparency. Ford Focus Rally America failed before it began because it is still thinking that it needs to play the contest card of twenty years ago. Everything's a secret, pay not attention to those men behind the curtain.  This foolish sensibility runs contrary to the goal of running a successful social media campaign. What they don't understand is that social media, the conversation, updates, chatter and authentic engagement is the fuel by which these people, socially connected influencers, are driven. Given them unreliable information is simply pulling the plug on interest and results on the community moving on to the next innovation.  This is not how to run a highly successful ad campaign, by alienating your greatest asset.

...stay tuned this show's not over yet...

Influencers vs. Collectors vs. Shouters

As many of you know by now I'm working hard at becoming a contestant on what [should] be the largest social media entertainment delivery on record: Focus Rally: America. Since that time I've decided to take a forefront position in the campaign by leading the Facebook group and running our team page with my partner Millo Aldea. What I've come to find out in this exercise is that there are three kinds of people that have come to the party.

Influencers: No surprise. They have a directive, goal and a voice. They talk of Autism awareness, Cancer awareness, their faith and others simply the lifestyle they wish to lead. But all of them respectively speak in a voice that is compelling and worth listening to. These are the people that move needles, what they say actually sticks in the minds of consumers creating a moment that places products/services (they talk about) into what is called the "consideration set."

The consideration set has no finality it simply adds, in this case the Ford Focus to the list of cars one might consider purchasing. This is all Ford or any manufacturer could ever ask for. The future of all social media for brands and advertiser is to get to this promised land.



Collectors: These are the people that seem to connect to everyone, have impressive followers in numbers but don't say anything. They post a couple of poorly thought out video clips and then allow ten of their friends to admin their boards because they don't really know what to say but "Like" me!

It's not that they lack passion or intelligence, it's just that social media may be the wrong medium for them to create influence. There folks may very well be better in person. The 'digital voice' is a fickle friend. You've all sent that email to your co-worker/spouse that get's the reply that accuses you of being an ass. Well the same stands true in all digital communications mediums. You in reading this post will digest the content in your own way and leave it (more than likely) in a way I had not presumed. That interaction and response is fundamentally what makes us human.


Shouters: Lastly, we have shouters. These are the people that 'carpet bomb' boards with a posse of people screaming that they're the best but giving zero reason why. The heavy lifting here was done initially by a group of influencers that pushed the snowball of shouters into a fury of "THEY GUNNA' ROCK THIS THING!" and leave most of us with as much brand equity in their race as driving pass an outdoor billboard for 'South Of The Border' for the 700th time at 100 mph.

I think everyone's hearts in the right place just having different levels of presumption on what moves people to be loyal. This is a game that requires a team of at home/work collective in order to win said competition, that being said it's easy to see who you should be aligning yourself with. In the remaining time prior to selection we'll see who gets the final knod. Will it be camera beauties? Geek fodder? Twitter Moguls? We'll just have to wait and see how many licks it takes to get to the center of the lollypop. But I can tell all contestants and followers that 'she/he with the most numbers' will not necessarily win, and that we all judge the quality of the audience before we presume they are gold.

Interesting show concept coming on influencers, give this a look, it's worth the time:

Posted on November 4, 2010 and filed under Advertising, Business, Research, Social Media.