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Ford turns to digital media for Focus Electric launch

Yahoo, serious: Ford is taking a cautious, low-budget approach to its Focus Electric launch in the US with a web-based reality TV series.

Yahoo! deal sees Ford pitch Focus EV to US punters via web TV, not big-budget media

Ford logo13 Apr 2012

FORD will abandon the traditional big-budget media campaign for its Focus Electric small car in the US next month, relying exclusively on digital media in partnership with Yahoo! to launch its first all-electric passenger car.

Although billed as a reflection of the increasingly important digital media, Ford’s move with the Focus Electric launch also highlights the uncertainty in the industry of electric vehicle demand, despite continuing high petrol prices.

Among the reasons behind this EV ‘X-factor’ are a general lack of consumer awareness, the newness of the technology, continuing improvements in conventional engine economy and the higher purchase price of electrified vehicles, with the Focus Electric carrying a Chevrolet Volt-matching $US39,995 sticker price (before government incentives).

Ford has also watched as Volt sales have softened in the US in the wake of a federal investigation into the safety of the car, prompting General Motors to halt production for more than a month during March and April to cut back on rising inventories.

In announcing the deal with Yahoo! this week, Ford’s US marketing communications director Matt VanDyke said: “The electric vehicle market will grow over time, so we electrified our popular small-car platform with a targeted online campaign instead of creating a one-off vehicle with huge ad budgets.”

27 center imageOverseas reports indicate that Ford’s traditional new-model marketing campaigns cost as much as $US100 million, whereas those using digital media generally cost less than $US10 million.

The Yahoo! campaign is based around a reality TV competition series dubbed ‘Plugged In’, which kicks off in May as the Focus Electric hits showrooms in California, New York and New Jersey.

Promoted as “America’s most fuel-efficient five-passenger car with a certified 110mpg equivalent city rating” – based on the US EPA’s MPGe test and equivalent to 2.1L/100km – the battery-powered Focus is scheduled to be available in 19 US markets by the end of the year.

Ford has previously confirmed to GoAuto that the Focus EV is almost certain to be the brand’s first electrified vehicle in Australia, but its local release remains dependent on the rollout of EV infrastructure and the establishment of a solid business case based on sufficient demand.

America’s second-largest car manufacturer also said last year that it plans to triple North American production of hybrids and electric vehicles to more than 100,000 units by 2013.

The ‘Plugged In’ series will be broadcast exclusively on Yahoo! Screen (or screen.yahoo.com) and features two-person teams competing in a series of challenges centred on the chance to win a Focus Electric.

Ford says celebrities will be used to provide clues that require contestants to complete various tasks and challenges around a city using the Focus EV, with the winning teams in each location participating in a final event in Los Angeles for a chance to win the car.

The show is geared towards Ford’s target audience for the electric Focus – residents of major US east and west coast cities – and the campaign is paired with Ford’s electric vehicle website that includes a blog for people to describe their driving habits so that “the best electrified vehicle technology can be matched to their needs”.

Ford’s experimental marketing manager Ginger Kasanic said: “The hope is that viewers not only find the competition element of ‘Plugged In’ exciting and interesting, but also learn a little bit about the possibilities offered by Focus Electric.”

Yahoo! claims it has 61 million unique visitors each month who come to its website to watch video. It also says it has 21 of the “top original online video programs”.

“We drew from insights we have about our audience – namely, that they are passionate about celebrity-related content, and that they love travel – and together with Ford we developed a high-energy reality competition in which the Focus Electric plays a key role,” said Yahoo! vice-president and head of video Erin McPherson.

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