Thunderbird Skips TV Spots Legendary Car Expected to Sell Quickly; Other Marketing Eyed

Ford Motor Co. may forgo TV advertising for its new Thunderbird because it expects the roadster will sell out before the spots could hit the air, 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. 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.

Chrysler’s former shop FCB Worldwide created some TV for the PT Cruiser, though demand exceeded supply for the car. But Ford, which already knows the Thunderbird will not be available when spots would air, will probably stick to other media, D’Armi said, as there’s no need to run TV spots touting cars not yet being sold at the dealerships. “If we do TV, it won’t be traditional,” he said.

Dealers began taking orders for the car last week, and demand is soon expected to outstrip initial supply of the 2002 model, which ar-rives in 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.