Ford Explores TV-Less T-Bird Campaign

DETROIT-Great expectations for its new Thunderbird may lead Ford Motor Co. to forgo TV advertising for the model and focus instead on other media, the nameplate’s brand manager said.

Ford instead plans to concentrate on various forms of relationship marketing with some tasks farmed out to nonroster shops, said Mickey D’Armi, Thunderbird brand manager. He declined to name the outside shops.

D’Armi and executives from lead Ford shop J. Walter Thompson head the Thunderbird management team. Work on the brand will also involve Ford’s Hispanic agency, Zubi Advertising Services in Coral Gables, Fla., and its African American shop, Uniworld Group in New York.

Ford is hoping to capture the driving public’s imagination the way Chrysler’s PT Cruiser did last year, which almost immediately was hard to find. D’Armi would not disclose Ford’s planned spending on the Thunderbird. Chrysler spent about $65 million on its launch of the PT Cruiser in 2000, per Competitive Media Reporting.

Former Chrysler shop FCB Worldwide created some TV ads for the PT Cruiser, though demand for the car exceeded supply. But Ford, which already knows the Thunderbird will not be available when spots would air, will probably rely on other media, D’Armi said, as there’s no need to run TV ads touting cars not yet available.

Dealers began taking orders for the car last week, and demand is soon expected to outstrip the initial supply of the 2002 model, which arrives at dealerships this summer. Ford expects to build 25,000 Thunderbirds annually.

In an initial marketing effort in September, Ford enlisted retailer Neiman Marcus to make 200 special-edition 2002 Thunderbirds available for early orders in its Christmas Book catalog. The cars, priced at $41,995, sold out in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

“We’ve been trying to keep the interest going since then, rather than going cold and coming out with a splash,” D’Armi said. Ford sent mailings to intrigued Neiman Marcus customers and is preparing a direct mail effort in the next several months.