Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ford's Bad Timing

Last week, the Ford Motor Company announced a decision to pull Jaguar and Land Rover ads from gay and lesbian targeted publications for what the company called "purely business" reasons. By itself this decision could stir some controversy, based merely on the fact that rather than naming one or several particular magazines that may have been negative cost-benefit situations for Ford, an entire segment was called out.
Unfortunately, what could have been a small storm broke out into a full-scale natural disaster when it was revealed that the American Family Association had threatened to boycott Ford's products for being "gay-friendly." All indications are that Ford buckled under this threat, and money-losing ads had nothing to do with it.
There are a number of important issues in play here, but the one that holds my attention with the strongest grip is the fact that, given the current state of the American auto industry, Ford needs to be selling as many cars to as many people as possible. Offering incentives to certain groups could certainly be cause for some grumbling, but merely advertising to any group of people, given a positive cost-benefit ratio, is nothing but good business. Caving to intimidation tactics is certainly not a viable business strategy.
There is a distinct possibility that Ford identified an unprofitable market segment and decided to stop spending money pushing ads on people who were not about to buy their products, but the timing of the situation has resulted in a PR firestorm. Even giving Ford the ideological benefit of the doubt, the best-case explanation here is the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing. Ford is a massive company spanning a large corporate landscape, and we can only hope the Magazine Ad Department never spoke with the Interest Group Relations Department prior to their unfortunate decision. However, Ford is no longer in the dominant position it was once in and situations like this, resulting from either a lack of corporate fortitude or a lack of internal communication, need to be avoided for the company to pull out of its recession.

-----UPDATE-----

The Ford Motor Company sent a letter to national gay and lesbian organizations earlier today. The letter reiterates Ford's stance on the decision to pull Jaguar and Land Rover ads from gay and lesbian targeted publications, which is that the decision was purely a business one and had nothing to do with catering to the American Family Association. To further emphasize this point, Ford is revising their decision and while Jaguar and Land Rover will still not be advertised in the magazines in question, corporate ads incorporating all eight of Ford's vehicle brands will be run.
This does seem to suggest that the threat of boycott by the AFA is not a factor in Ford's advertising strategy. Critics may tag this as a way for Ford to cover their tracks after a bad call, but as mentioned above even the best case scenario suggests that Ford needs to get all of its resources to operate as a cohesive unit.

1 comment:

FrankF said...

Bill Ford needs to lead like how Henry Ford did. People respond to powerful leaders, people who make decisions boldly(not necassarily the right ones). Bill should have tried just standing up and showing that hes a champion for civil rights. Thats how you really shakes things up and get some buzz in the industry. Obviously the extremests might stop buying them, but is Toyota going to capatilize by only marking to rednecks? I doubt they want to be known as the car choice of the gay basher.