Ads Tout Ford’s Charity Focus

As General Motors and Chrysler continue to draw federal funds, Ford Motor, which is getting by without such support, has launched an in-cinema campaign to tout the fact it’s giving out millions to charities.

The timing of the ads, which will run this month on about 17,300 movie screens, couldn’t be more fortuitous, with GM and Chrysler entangled in bailout talks and generating reams of critical press. Ford, meanwhile, is putting a brand-buffing message in front of kids and gatekeepers who’ll be flocking to all-family fare like Monsters vs. Aliens, Hannah Montana: The Movie and 17 Again.

“You hear so much right now about corporate greed and big business,” said Jim Vella, president of the Ford Fund & Community Services division. “This is a great counterpoint.” This isn’t the first time Ford has touted the Ford Fund in ads. Previous TV, print and outdoor ads from JWT showed employees who logged volunteer hours.

The new campaign, the first national ads for the unit, came after discussions with National CineMedia, the in-theater ad seller that eventually pulled the spot together. Ford Fund executives decided to go into movie houses like AMC and Regal where audiences will be surveyed for their thoughts after they’ve seen the ad.

The two-minute piece, running in the FirstLook preshow before  G- and PG-rated films, focuses on the 86,000 volunteer hours that Ford employees have donated, the $17 million investment in education the company made in one year and its donations to Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army and America’s Second Harvest.

Ford had previously found through research that talking about its charity work boosted its brand image and made consumers more likely to consider buying a Ford product. “We want to do the right thing,” Vella said, “and make it a good business proposition.”

National CineMedia and Ford wouldn’t give specifics on the cost of the media buy, but it’s significantly less expensive real estate than national TV and boasts much higher consumer recall. While auto advertising in general has slumped, it’s remained one of the top five categories in theaters, with imports leading the way.

Much of the industry is focusing on back-to-basics advertising aimed at clearing out inventory and getting potential buyers into new cars. But the Ford Fund spot does not promote the company’s models, deals or incentives. After showing its philanthropic work, with Vella’s voiceover that says, “We’ve given more money in more communities than any company in our industry,” and “See you in the neighborhood,” the spot ends simply with the logo and current tagline, “Drive One.” Dave Kupiec, National CineMedia’s evp, sales and marketing, said there are no beauty shots of the cars: “At a time when they could be just thinking about moving product, they’re thinking long-term.”