NEW YORK For the launch of its new crossover vehicle, Ford has teamed with Microsoft to use its virtual mapping technology in an effort to connect consumers with local experiences.
The Ford Edge Virtual Tour (fordedge.msn.com), due to launch today, lets users in 25 U.S. cities find new places to eat, activities, sites and services through MSN's Virtual Earth mapping technology. The Ford Edge "collection" is also soliciting user contributions for "ideas on the edge" in its five categories: eat, see, trek, play and indulge.
With the push, Ford hopes to connect with car buyers in their 30s, typically married, who are looking for a stylish car that is still practical. The Ford Edge is one of a crop of 2007 rollouts the struggling automaker is banking on to turn around its fortunes after losing $7 billion during the first nine months of the year.
"We're trying to establish an all-new brand here," said Jeri Ward, marketing manager for Edge. "We're bringing them unique content and enabling them to try new things and change their perception about Ford."
Ford is not the first automaker to explore new mapping technologies to reach consumers. Saturn hooked up with Google in September to use its Google Earth application in a push that brought users to virtual versions of local Aura dealerships where a dealer video plays. Unlike that use, Ford is taking a lighter touch to collecting leads, although it will ultimately judge the program, in large part, on how many users click through to the Ford Web site to request information or go for a test drive.
"When a consumer comes to this, you're not getting seconds of their time, you're getting minutes of their time," said Gayle Troberman, general manager of global branded entertainment and experiences at MSN. "You have their attention and you have much more time to engage with them."
MSN research has found experiential programs like this result in 95 percent higher levels of purchase intent than standard banner ads, she said.
MSN will push the virtual tour through banner ads throughout the site, targeted to the Ford Edge demographic, and contextual placements in areas like the portal's lifestyle section.