A few weeks ago, auto enthusiasts Clay Smith and Rob Scafidi were posting random comments on the car blog Jalopnik about the 2013 Ford Fusion. The next thing they knew, they found themselves zooming along L.A.'s Mulholland Drive with professional racer Tanner Foust, host of BBC's Top Gear, behind the wheel of a Fusion, all part of an ad campaign that debuts today on Jalopnik and its sister Gawker Media site Gizmodo.
"Consumers don't want to hear the brand talking at them or even the voice of the brand," said Erica Bigley, digital media manager for Ford Motor Co. "We wanted to speak to what consumers are actually thinking."
Jalopnik has been a haven for no-holds-barred car talk for more than eight years, spawning well-known bloggers as well as putting the spotlight on average readers who frequently comment on the blog's items. Ford was intrigued when it heard a pitch to create video ads based on Jalopnik reader comments—positive and negative—about the new Fusion.
The eco-minded vehicle's engine is offered either as a plug-in (electric/gas), eco-boost (gas) or hybrid model, and Ford and its agency Team Detroit proposed that employing Jalopnik readers in the creative would help clear up some confusion around the Fusion. "For example, there's a range anxiety with the plug-in," Bigley explained. "People fear that they'll go 10 miles and then be stranded, which isn't the case at all."
In an effort called The Fusion Project, a series of four three-minute videos will run as sponsored content at the top of Jalopnik and Gizmodo. The first three spots will feature Jalopnik readers like Smith and Scafidi who, in a reality-TV twist, were told they were being flown to L.A. to participate in a Gawker Media research project only to find out about the ads once they arrived. Dialogue in each of the long-form spots topically reflects praising or damning comments about the Fusion the participants had posted on Jalopnik.
Performance, design and engine type are the central themes of the first three videos, while the fourth and final ad will serve as a wrap-up.
The spots are heavy on fun. In the spot focused on design, participants climb into the Fusion's roomy trunk while a leggy actress/model makes sarcastic hand gestures reminiscent of a Price Is Right hostess.
"Rather than just reply to comments, we said, what if we were to create an experience that would act as a response?" said Ray Wert, founder of auto-marketing startup Tiny Toy Car, which worked with Ford, Team Detroit and Gawker on the campaign. "We wanted to create a big real-life response to their comments."
Wert, who launched Tiny Toy Car in January after a stint at Gawker Media, said utilizing sites like Jalopnik and Gizmodo may help Ford access tech-savvy West Coast consumers in the market for a new vehicle.
"The bar is so low out there with sponsored content, you could actually trip over it," he said. "But doing something like this, you can move the needle and change people's perceptions about the brand."