Ford, with Mike Rowe, gets Tier 2 retail right.

Anyone who has worked in automotive marketing knows how tough it is to do really good Tier 2 advertising.

Here’s the issue.  Tier 1 is funded by the manufacturer and is often referred to as the “brand” communications.  Tier 3 is the communications funded and executed at the local level by individual dealers.  Tier 2 is caught betwixt and between.

Funded in part by the manufacturer and in part by the local market dealer groups.  Tier 2 must serve two masters.  The manufacturer wants to be sure that the work reflects the brand and makes the doors swing whereas the dealers are understandably concerned with just making the doors swing.  Just to make it more difficult, the manufacturer’s marketing team and the dealers often have a different points-of-view about what will make the doors swing.

Tier 2 is where the brand versus retail discussion often gets very heated.   It is very tough to find a balance between the brand and retail messages.  More often than not, you end up erring toward the retail.  We all know what this formula looks like.  The TV commercials are visuals of the vehicle on the road, held together by a litany of product features in the copy and you tie it up with a bow…the deal.  The newsprint is a visual of the car, a couple of sentences covering key features, the deal and some legal disclaimers.

This leads to a sea of sameness when it comes to Tier 2 communications.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Tier 2 communications can represent the brand and the retail message successfully and powerfully.

That’s exactly what Ford and its agency Retail First (part of Team Detroit) have done with their campaign using Mike Rowe of “Dirtiest Jobs” fame.  Here’s one of their early commercials:

This is a solid piece of work and I think Mike Rowe does a good job, but what’s really interesting is how Ford and their agency, over-time, improved the advertising.  According to Matt Van Dyke and Dave Rivers of Ford who are responsible for this work, the early work with Mike Rowe was tightly scripted and used actors.  No surprise here, that’s what most companies and agencies, would do.

But look what happens when Retail First and Ford decide to loose the reigns on Rowe by giving him “talking points” and real consumers to interact with:

Here’s another:

Obviously, what makes this work really strong is the use of Mike Rowe, but what a difference when they let him go and just talk to people.  He’s even more genuine, likable, friendly, warm, trustworthy and credible.  Every time he makes someone smile or laugh, you like him even more.  Mike Rowe makes this work stand out and work that much harder (if you doubt Mike’s effectiveness, compare these ads to Chevy’s with Howie Long).

I think this work leaves the consumer feeling positively toward the Ford brand but it also does not shrink from the retail message.  That’s one of the terrific things about Mike Rowe; he can deliver a pretty hard-edged message about product and price without sounding like a shill.

I’m not privy to Ford’s corporate strategy but it is a big brand that covers lots of segments and customers so it needs to be a lot of things to a lot of people.  I would suspect that Ford would be very pleased if “genuine, likable, friendly, warm, trustworthy and credible” washed over their brand from Mike Rowe.  But importantly, based on recent sales, this Tier 2 advertising is also “making the doors swing.”

Finally, here’s my favorite Ford/Mike Rowe ad:

“There’s Max sittin’ in a Mustang, there’s Max sittin’ in an Accord.  What’s cooler?”

Got it.

Please let me know what you think.

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