Abid Hussain Barlaskar

"We're taking gossip head-on, shutting down critics": Rahul Gautam, Ford

Ford's new ad featuring actor Vijay Raaz is a repeat of its myth-busting campaign from 2017. It extends the brand's 'Myth-Conception' campaign aimed at eradicating a 'myth' — that Ford vehicles come at a high cost of maintenance.

Among the latest ad films from auto brand Ford India is a commercial that doesn't talk about any of its vehicles. The ad also doesn't speak about any of the brand's services. It has been crafted and is being promoted with a specific purpose — to bust a myth. The comic video, featuring actor Vijay Raaz, is aimed at busting a 'myth' that Ford vehicles come at a high cost of maintenance. Titled 'Facts vs Gossip’, it is also an extension of Ford's 'Myth-Conception' campaign from 2017. The ad films, the previous ones and the new one, have been crafted by GTB, WPP's dedicated agency for Ford.

What stands out is the fact that a campaign with an almost same message has resurfaced nearly two years after the original was launched. We had written at length about the 2017 campaign.

Rahul Gautam, vice-president, marketing, Ford India, then told us that the problem was, consumers perceived Ford vehicles as high-maintenance, which was opposite to the truth. “We want to convey the point of view of how, we at Ford view the value of ownership holistically, i.e., all the costs involved through the life cycle of the product. Not many car buyers knew that Ford products have a longer service cycle, which makes people pay only once a year on services,” he had then said. The new campaign comes at a time when most other auto brands have taken to tech based propositions such as IoT, etc.

Also Read: "We wish to bust the myth that Ford cars are expensive to maintain": Rahul Gautam, VP Marketing, Ford India

We reached out to the Ford India team to understand why it was necessary to repeat the messaging. Gautam responds, “At Ford, we have worked relentlessly to ensure that Ford service cost is not just transparent but also competitive throughout the lifecycle. The latest campaign reinforces this message in a light-hearted way. The campaign is part of Ford’s ongoing strategy to break stereotypes and ill-informed notions about our cars and extends the innovative storytelling around cost of service that kickstarted in 2017.”

Rahul Gautam
Rahul Gautam

“What makes this campaign unique is Ford’s ability to take gossip head-on and shut down its critics through compelling facts — something that needs to be done consistently given the world we live in where we end up believing everything that is told,” Gautam adds.

The film is targetted at customers who "consider a Ford but hold back because of ill-informed/malicious gossip”. It also aims to help Ford owners to take gossip head-on and present facts to feel proud of their decision to invest in a Ford.

Around the same time last year, Ford's creative mandate was awarded to Omnicom's BBDO as a global move from the American auto giant. Thus, an ad film crafted by GTB got us curious. It turns out that BBDO is in charge of the primary brand and products. GTB would be handling outreaches such as the new campaign, after-sales outreach and activation.

Turning to experts:

Samar Singh Sheikhawat, business consultant (former CMO of United Breweries), says, “I think Ford has bigger problems than an apparent high service cost perception. People are not buying cars, not just Fords. And service costs are a very small reason towards that end.”

Samar Singh Sheikhawat
Samar Singh Sheikhawat

"When you have a weakness, real or imagined, why would you give it legitimacy by talking about it in mass media? It is much more effective to handle it on ground with real actions. Maybe create communication around what has been done, for example, actual tests done with Ford consumers who should’ve featured in the ads. Also, what is the difference between servicing a Ford car and another company’s car? Hardly anything to compare and make a difference about,” he adds.

“The previous campaign is also like a knee-jerk and slighty panicky response to what is not really a strong perception amongst people. Even people who didn't know this as an apparent issue now know about it. One more reason not to buy a Ford. An iconic brand such as Ford needs to drive the legacy and the success of their various models from the Ikon to the Ecosport to the Endeavour, rather than focus on what in my mind is a non-issue,” Sheikhawat explains.

Creative consultant, L Suresh, says, “Traditionally, most automobile brands have chosen to focus communication on new launches, technology (Kia) or service (Maruti). So it is a bit strange that a brand focusses repeatedly on a “perceived problem”. If Ford's exorbitant service bills are a myth, where did this myth start? Is there an element of truth to it?”

L Suresh
L Suresh

“Also, if it's such a serious problem that requires targetted communication, there are two questions. One, can communication alone solve this issue for them? What about word of mouth — reviews on various social media platforms, customer forums and search engines from existing customers? Isn't that the first place a potential customer checks out before buying anything? And two, can a lone film carry so much of responsibility on its shoulders?” Suresh asks.

“The core thought here is "question before you believe it”, which is a lot closer to the original objective of the communication. But has the brand really succeeded in proving that all those stories about Ford's service costs are just tall tales? Or is it expecting potential customers to do the sleuthing and find out for themselves?" he questions.

“One recalls Project Vishwas by Cadbury's when worms (the real ones) were found in Dairy Milk bars and Nestle's response to the Maggi lead controversy that weighed against the brand. There was nothing one-off about them. What Ford has done is call attention to a problem and not offer a real solution to it because, it's just a myth. What it needs to do is put an end to the issue in a way that next year, it wouldn't have to come up with another ad for this,” Suresh signs off.

Anjali Malthankar, national strategy director, Tonic Worldwide says, “This is a typical case of perception correction. This campaign continues to draw attention to the negative/problem than the positive, just like the campaign from 2017. While the execution route is completely different, the strategic route is the same — myth-busting. If the perception problem has persisted with the earlier strategy, a mere different execution may not help the brand. Plus, the communication is almost reminding the audience of all the negatives even after two years. The campaign could have focussed more on 'surprisingly affordable’.”

Anjali Malthankar
Anjali Malthankar

On being asked if this problem is something that takes sustained messaging to eradicate, Malthankar says, "I don't think so. The longer it takes to correct a perception, the more it becomes a part of the brand in the consumers' mind. In fact such problems should be addressed with an impact and urgency.”