As catchy advertising slogans go, Ford breaks many of the rules of the genre, writes Jessica Casey.
When Henry Ford told his salespeople in 1909 that “any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black,” he was demonstrating two of his greatest powers: his grasp of words and his talent for marketing his products.
In fairness, that typically pithy line was never intended as a public slogan — but that kind of punchy and effective sentence has become part of Ford’s DNA ever since.
The company has been a world leader for a century in advertising, marketing, and particularly the art of coming up with a slogan that captures attention and sells a product to the masses.
Slogans through the years such as ‘Built Ford tough!’, ‘There’s A Ford In Your Future’, ‘If You Haven’t Looked At Ford Lately, Look Again’ and ‘Everything We Do Is Driven By You’ are a few examples of that.
Henry’s early marketing strategies were bold and strident, including a 1905 campaign with the tagline: ‘Don’t Experiment: Just buy A Ford’.
Three years later, when the Model T launched, the company took out a full-page advertisement in one of the most popular American magazines of the time, the Saturday Evening Post.
Running alongside more established competitors like Cadillac and Packard, the ad boasted about the vehicle’s ‘High Priced Quality, in A Low Price Car’.
It was an ‘affordable luxury’ sales pitch that the company would use time and again.
It is telling that the Evening Post ad predominantly displayed the price of the car — $850, a fraction of the cost of other vehicles.
Taking on the bigger companies was a risk, but it paid off for Ford; the advert introduced the Model T to the masses and directly contributed to the car’s success.
In fact, the car became so commercially successful that Ford did not feel the need to aggressively advertise it between 1917 and 1923.
After women gained the right to vote in the US in 1919, a surge in female empowerment swept the country. In the 1920s, Ford pitched its automobiles as the “stimulus to thousands of women to lead happier, healthier, more active lives”, maintaining its vehicles were the ultimate symbol of female independence.
The company appealed to potential female customers by focusing on traditional roles, with slogans like ‘Ford Sets The Fashion’ and ‘Brakes You Love To Touch’, with a selection of ads also geared towards husbands pleasing their wives — ‘Buy Your Wife A Ford’ and ‘What To Tell Your Wife Before The Thunderbird Arrives’.
When radio and later television gained mass audiences, Ford utilised these new media too.
Reliability was often a factor in slogans. One 1923 Ford ad depicted a doctor making a house call under the headline ‘Dependable As The doctor Himself’.
At the beginning of the 1940s, the reliability of Ford’s vehicles figured again, with phrases such as ‘Get The Facts And You’ll Get The Ford’.
In the aftermath of World War II, the company’s print ads tapped into the hopes for a bright new world — in America at least while Europe grappled with the fall-out of the catastrophe.
Ads displayed bright, colourful scenes, showing Ford cars at circuses and ticker-tape parades, while slogans like ‘There’s A Ford In Your Future’ reflected the forward-looking post-war mindset.
By the 1950s, the American dream played a central role across the company’s print advertising, with slogans proclaiming ‘All The Best For The Years Ahead’ and ‘The Car Everyone Would Love to Own’.
As the popularity of television increased, the Ford company created some iconic pieces of screen advertising.
One 1964 TV ad for the Mustang was credited with having a huge impact on the market. “Have you heard about Henry Foster?” asks a gossipy old lady, as said Henry emerges from his antique shop with his lunch bag.
“Something’s happened to Henry,” intones the voice-over, as he ditches his bowler hat for a sporty plaid one, and his glasses for racing goggles. “A Mustang’s happened to Henry,” says a younger, more seductive voice, as Henry drives off in his new car.
Slogans in that decade included one for the 1966 Ford Station Wagon: ‘You’re Ahead In A Ford’, and ‘We Listen Better’. In the late 1960s, Ford tried to rally baby boomers around the slogan ‘Ford Has A Better Idea’ using the image of a light bulb to signal inspiration in place of the ‘o’ in Ford.
The 1970s and 1980s were difficult years for motor manufacturers and Ford appealed to mass audiences with its tagline ‘Quality Is Job One’.
In the 1990s, the company combined music and marketing to great effect with its ‘Everything We do Is Driven By You’ campaign, featuring a soundtrack from Queen’s Brian May.
The most recent ‘Unlearn Everything’ ad campaign, asking customers to ‘Let Go Of What You Know’ features groups of people breaking stereotypes, such as a pensioner running a marathon, a drone delivering post, and a celebrity posing for a selfie instead of signing an autograph.
In 2013, the company again showed its willingness to experiment and innovate with its marketing, by launching a unique social media strategy.
It decided that all advertising for the 2014 Fiesta would be created solely by bloggers, film-makers and ‘social influencers’, then widely shared across platforms like Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.
Ford gave 100 ‘social influencers’ the car and let the group create their own spins on an advert for the car. A project on this scale had never before been attempted.
The current campaign celebrates 100 years of Ford’s heritage in Ireland, with the company commissioning a short digital film starring Aidan Quinn, reflecting on Ford in Ireland and what the future holds: ‘The Future Is Unwritten — Get There In A Ford’.
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