At a time when automakers have cut back on ad spending, Ford Motor Co. will rev its marketing engines for a unique commercial alliance with Walt Disney’s video properties.
The large U.S. advertiser intends to unveil its new line of Broncos with short films slated to be broadcast in the first commercial break of the 8 p.m. hour on Monday, July 13 on Disney’s ABC broadcast network and its ESPN and National Geographic cable outlets. The films will subsequently be made available for viewing on Hulu, the company’s ad-supported streaming service, on July 14.
Ad money from large auto companies has been harder to come by in recent weeks. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, automakers are among the marketers paring back their spending. The number of 30-second TV ads from car companies was off by as much as 56% during the weeks of May 4 and May 11, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending. During the week of June 15, the number of 30-second ads from car companies was down 31% from the year-earlier period, according to Kantar.
But the introduction of Ford’s new Bronco lineup of SUVs had been on the calendar for quite some time. Ford had planned to reveal the new vehicles in June at a revamped North American International Auto Show in Detroit. The pandemic forced the cancellation of that event, so Ford devised a new strategy, hoping to attract a larger audience by using traditional video commercials. Ford reached out to several different companies, says Mike Levine, a spokesman for the automaker, “but determined that Disney is the best fit for revealing the all-new Ford Bronco across its broadcast and digital properties.”
Using a “roadblock,” or running TV ads across different networks simultaneously, is a time-worn advertising strategy. In decades past, advertisers would work with a handful of different TV outlets to synchronize the appearance of a single commercial in hopes that its pitch would be one of the few things TV viewers might see at a given time. As the number of TV options exploded with the rise of cable, however, the tactic has been more difficult to put in place, and now is often coordinated with a single media company across the properties it owns. For Disney, the technique may have greater relevance, given the number of outlets placed under its corporate umbrella since its $71 billion acquisition of the cable-and-studio assets of the former 21st Century Fox in 2019.
“The marketing community is very familiar with the term ‘roadblock’ and what it means,” says Wendell Scott, a senior vice president at Disney Advertising Sales, but “there is media space and there is what you do with it.” Rather than simply repeating the same commercial across each network, he says, Disney’s internal marketing unit, CreativeWorks, teamed with Ford ad agencies Wieden + Kennedy and GTB to tailor different vignettes for each TV appearance.
On ABC, for example, the Bronco will be featured in a three-minute film starring country music singer Kip Moore during “CMA Best of Fest.” On ESPN, a vignette featuring a different Bronco model and professional climber Brooke Raboutou will air during “SportsCenter.” And on National Geographic, Jimmy Chin, a professional climber and director and photographer, will spotlight another Bronco during “National Parks: Yosemite.” Chin will also judge a hashtag challenge contest and appear in an Instagram Story featuring the Bronco on NatGeo’s Instagram account.
On July 14, the three films will be available on Hulu, where viewers may choose to watch them within a collection of outdoor and survival-themed content aligned with the Bronco lifestyle. Ford will share additional content with fans on its YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter channels starting at 8:00 p.m. ET on July 13 – including additional details of each new Bronco model.
Disney’s Scott says the company hopes to do similar executions with other ad partners, suggesting that bigger collaborations will create stronger ties with individual sponsors.
“Ford Bronco is an icon that has captured people’s imaginations and inspired them to explore the most remote corners of America and the world since the 1960s,” said Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer, in a prepared statement. “As a new era for Bronco begins, we’re proud to tap the strengths of epic adventurers like Jimmy Chin and Disney storytellers to help bring Bronco to life and inspire millions of people to get out into the wild.”