Opinion: Ford's green effort fails to cut through

'With one of the worst fuel efficiency records of any car company, Ford is trying to go green.' Believe it or not, this isn't the cynical scribbling of some hemp-heeled eco-warrior, but the first line of an 'ad' that Ford itself has placed on 400 US blogs this past week.

While communications professionals in the UK are still figuring out whether there really is a significant ‘blogosphere of influence' that directly affects them, Ford US has invested a huge amount of time and money addressing its perceived failures in public. 

The blog ad directs readers to a part of the Ford US website called the Ford BoldMoves project. It is a weekly video documentary series that claims to take you ‘inside Ford as it attempts one of the largest corporate turnarounds in history'. Topics and issues that would once be the sole preserve of the PR person are slickly turned into ‘content' by Ford's ad agency JWT.  And I have to say the content is compelling. It convinces even a hard-bitten media man like me that Ford really is trying to change, and doing so because it is staffed by imaginative, talented teams of people who are genuinely concerned about the future.

All very impressive. But there are two problems with this approach. First, no amount of open, honest content can detract from the fact that this feels ultimately a very solipsistic challenge. Looking inwardly in this way, Ford makes its desperation to succeed the primary driver of the initiative. Ford clearly does need consumers - the company's global performance has been sluggish both in terms of sales and innovation - but the question is, do consumers really need Ford? Genuinely consumer-centred car brands such as Toyota and (in Europe) Renault neither need nor execute such campaigns.

Second, the project confirms that Ford is a peculiarly US-centred business. While this might not seem so surprising, reflect for a moment on the idea that UK car buyers might want to find out what Ford Europe is up to in areas of contention (emissions, sustainability, etc). The silence is deafening. A poorly edited token chapter on ford.co.uk spends a grand total of 162 words on ‘environmental issues'. Not really sufficient to address the guilt one might feel at buying a car. Consistency is crucial for a brand to convincingly change its spots.

As a piece of one-market corporate honesty, BoldMoves can't be bettered, but it just confirms that old-world principles of consistency and consumer-centricity can't be swept aside by novel PR.

Mark Waugh is deputy managing director at media agency ZenithOptimedia.
(Kate Nicholas is away)

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