CAMPAIGNS: Product Launch - Ford delivers bolt of T-bird nostalgia

Client: Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, MI)

Client: Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, MI)

Client: Ford Motor Company (Dearborn, MI)

PR Team: Campbell & Company (Dearborn, MI)

Campaign: American Dream Car Tour & Sweepstakes

Time Frame: May 27 - August 17, 2000

Budget: About dollars 1.2 million

When Jason Vines joined Ford early last year as VP of communications, he realized the automaker was on the verge of a unique PR opportunity: in just over a year, it would launch the 2002 Thunderbird, a two-seat roadster reminiscent of the renowned 1955 original.

Featuring classic design - including an eggcrate grille, round headlamps and porthole windows - as well as the latest engineering technologies, prototypes of the up-coming model were already generating significant media attention at major auto shows.

'Products like this don't come along very often,' says Vines. 'It's romance, it's heritage, it's America.'


Given the warm feelings many Americans associate with the '55 T-bird, Vines thought the PR campaign for the 2002 model should go beyond a typical new-car launch. Indeed, here was a chance to rekindle the nostalgia for the good of the entire corporation.

'We wanted to leverage the affection and equity of the original T-bird, not only for the new model, but for Ford Motor Company in general,' says Rich Ceppos, an executive vice president at Campbell, which has worked with Ford for the past 20 years.

The result was the American Dream Car Tour & Sweepstakes, a pre-launch promotional effort that focused on generating a 'drumbeat' across the country for the 'good vibes' that Ford would soon deliver. It did so by passing the torch from the beloved '55 original to the next-generation model, creating a connection between the two in a fun and interesting way.


Three refurbished, 1950s T-birds embarked on a 10-week tour of 144 cities and towns in the top 20 media markets across the US. The seven-day-a-week blitz ran from Memorial Day weekend through the middle of August 2000, and covered more than 9,000 miles.

Decked out in '50s attire, members of the driving teams handed out postcards and posters of a concept version of the 2002 T-bird, as well as T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with an American Dream Car Tour logo.

A team from Ford and Campbell kept the media up-to-speed with phone calls, e-mail advisories and a press kit that included a 'heritage package' with information on the history of the T-bird.

In addition, Ford promoted the tour with a targeted drive-time radio campaign. The radio component accounted for nearly one-third of the campaign's overall budget and was sponsored by local traffic reports, which gave the time and location of tour appearances.

The tour was supported by a Web site where consumers could register to win one of the three vintage autos by logging on and disclosing when and where they spotted the cars. The site included an image of the '55 T-bird morphing into the 2002 version.


Besides the face-to-face impact of visiting popular locations in the nation's largest markets, the tour garnered 54 live television interviews, 34 live radio interviews, 14 major newspaper stories (including The New York Times and USA Today) and 25,000 Web registrations.

In addition to awarding the tour's three classic T-birds through the sweepstakes, Ford donated a fourth to charity.

One month after the tour ended, upscale retailer Neiman Marcus made 200 special-edition 2002 T-birds available early through its annual Christmas Book, a catalog of exclusive gifts. When the phone lines opened, the cars sold out in a record two hours and 15 minutes.


Because of the success of the American Dream Car Tour & Sweepstakes, Vines says Ford is planning to tour the nation this summer in a fleet of 2002 models.

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