A fame-hungry bright orange glove puppet called Doug is unlikely star of a new online campaign that aims to change negative perceptions of the Ford Focus.
Developed by Ford retained agency Team Detroit and Paul Feig, the creator of US show Freaks & Geeks and director of shows including The Office, the viral campaign aims to create a buzz around the new model.
Jonathan Beebe, digital marketing director at Ford, explains: “The Focus didn’t have a cool factor in the US. In research, it was described as a ‘box on wheels’ and ‘like driving a desk’. While it was considered great value, it was people could afford not what they desired.”
US consumers did, however, desire the Ford Focus that they saw in Europe, he adds. So, with the launch of the 2012 Ford Focus, its first global vehicle, Ford decided to create a provocateur to highlight the differences in the new model but, also, make it clear that it is the same car the world over.
“We wanted a character that could interact directly with people on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to tackle the criticism head on,” explains Beebe. While up to 50 characters options were considered, it was decided a bright orange puppet would be the most memorable.
The smart-talking Doug, who lives entirely on social media, was introduced to the American public through a series of “amateur” (and thus unbranded) videos that saw him take the role of everyday hero – he foiled an armed robbery; he gave first aid to man collapsed on a bus and then saved a lady choking on food in a restaurant.
Each time, a flash of orange is seen scurrying away from the scene until the last time when, let down by his broken down old car, he fails to get away in time. Hearing about his plight, Ford offers him a brand new Ford Focus to help him out with his humanitarian exploits. It later transpires that, in his desperation to be famous, Doug has paid people to take place in these videos but, by then, he has became obsessed with the car.
“We really wanted the sketches to be consistently funny but we also wanted to give them that sophisticated humour seen in shows such as the British version of The Office,” he adds. “So we contacted Paul Feig, who brought with him access to a wide range of writers from great shows including The Simpsons and 30 Rock.”
The idea of using a social media character was developed, according to Beebe, from 2009’s Fiesta Movement campaign. Ford gave vehicles to 100 “socially vibrant” characters from across the social web, who then promoted then it across Twitter, blogs, video and events with no traditional media support.
Its collective results included more than 4.3m YouTube views, 3m Twitter impressions and engagement with 50,000 potential customers, 97% of which did not already own a Ford. “We learnt a lot of lessons from the Fiesta Movement campaign about how heavy handed our branding can be. We are still adjusting the content development with Doug and learning as we go along.”
So far, Doug’s edgy humour has garnered more than 1m views for seven clips, all of which contain no branding, in about a month. He is also starting to collect Facebook friends and Twitter followers as the new videos connect the dots between the back story and his role as the new Ford spokesman.
Beebe says research projects will be carried out to judge the success of the campaign but it does not have the kind of targets that would be placed on a traditional campaign. “It is one of the first times we aren’t focusing on any key buying opportunities or pricing. It is an awareness and engagement campaign about creating buzz and favourability.
“We don’t expect people to see Doug and then go and buy the Ford Focus. However, we hope the awareness we generate means they will think of the campaign when choosing a car.”
He adds that it has not been developed to fit into the wider traditional advertising strategy for the 2012 Focus, which has already rolled out in both the US and the UK.
While Doug has been developed specifically for the Ford Focus, the learning from this social media experiment is expected to inform other campaigns going forward. “He is a living breathing character. If you say something to him, he will come back to you. It is an exciting to engage people in a new way.”
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