Jim Farley, Ford’s evp of global marketing, sales and service, thinks it’s time to sell the most technologically advanced cars as products for the Everyman, much like Target offers high-concept design for the masses. Consumers, especially younger ones, will soon expect smart, fuel-efficient features in all models, and Farley thinks Ford, which has instituted the tagline “Go Further” in its marketing campaigns, can own that brand position. The progress is promising. The 2014 Ford Fiesta may be the most fuel-efficient, nonhybrid vehicle in North America. Still, the automaker’s brand vision of affordable green cars for everybody has not yet been realized. Farley talked with Adweek about the evolution of the enduring consumer brand.
How old is the average Ford customer in the U.S. today?
The average age is 50. Younger people account for only about 10 percent of our buyers. In about 20 years, 70 percent of our customers will be younger buyers.
Young consumers live in a different world than their parents. Experts call it an environment of scarcity where energy efficiency is inherently important to them. Is Ford ready to address that?
In our advertising this year, we have bet mostly on the product side, talking about the efficiency and performance of our turbo-charged engines, which are as small as a piece of handheld luggage you take on an airplane. On the branding level, you’ll see Bill Ford, Ford’s chairman, talk about what we stand for when it comes to energy innovations. He and CEO Alan Mulally are getting out our [larger] message about democratizing technology.
Will that philosophy be reflected in the brand’s marketing to all ages?
Yes, but it’s not there yet. First, Ford is working to bring the price down for innovation. Most car companies design tech for the wealthy and take the risk that the tech might not scale. But Ford designs high-volume technology that can be used in affordable mass-market vehicles that make a real difference in people’s lives. For instance, right now we are working toward “Ford-izing” plug-in electric technology by offering it in our cars [at all price points]. It won’t be a unique feature for a niche product; it will be the same across our lineup.
Philippe Starck said that “Elitism is now the ultimate vulgarity.” Do you agree?
Absolutely. The Everyman approach is part of our heritage. It’s what Henry Ford stood for—bringing innovation to the masses. Remember, he tried to sell his autos to rich people twice and failed.
How about the emergence of car sharing and research about young people viewing a vehicle as something that is mainly used with others rather than as a personal symbol of self-expression?
We are very interested in these phenomena. Sometimes these changes seem small and can have very big implications. And we are watching these changes carefully.