Ford spends big on web spin

Ford drops $3.5 million to get its tire recall story onto the Web. It may be the first online spin campaign of its size, but it won't be the last.

The top advertisement on the Web isn't an ad at all.

The Ford Motor Co. is flying banners on 200 different sites as part of $3.5 million spin control campaign, a new study shows.

The Ford (f) ad banners have proliferated since Sept. 18, when 6.5 million of Bridgestone's Firestone tires, many of them on Ford cars, were recalled. Clicks take viewers to a tire recall site that gives Ford's "official" view of events.

The banners have generated nearly 50 million impressions since they started running, and 44 percent of all web-based ad spending by automakers, according to a study released Thursday by AdRelevance.

"Ford seems to be turning the tables on mass media," AdRelevance analysts David Martin and Marc Ryan wrote in a prepared statment. "While media broadcasts Ford's woes to the world, Ford is striking back."

The web ads complement the television campaign featuring Ford CEO Jac Nasser providing personal updates on the recall. The TV ads have been running almost nightly for several weeks.

"This combination allows Ford to deal with customer concerns in a way that minimizes negative exposure and affords them a chance to repair their damaged image," Martin and Ryan wrote.

The campaign isn't a backdoor attempt to trick anybody, said Caroline Brown, Ford's director of global marketing, adding that Ford has always used the Web to get its message across.

Ford's Volvo subsidiary recently announced plans to market a new model entirely on the Web, Brown said.

"We understand that's where our customers are," she said. "We wanted to get into every existing media known to man. If we could have gotten the Rosetta Stone, we would have."

Reach was one consideration in Ford's web-based ad spending spree, according to Brown, and the company's haste to get the campaign going was another.

It took only a matter of hours to get the first banner ads onto the Web, and a week to 14 days for TV and print ads to appear.

The campaign is significant and not just for needed cash infusion to sites like iWon, Yahoo!, CNN, and Searchalot. Never before has such a big company used the Web in ways other than to pitch their products, analysts said.

"Our view is there is absolutely an inevitability to using the Web for other than direct response," said Charlie Buchwalter, AdRelevance vice president of media research. "As a major advertiser like Ford chooses to use the Web in this capacity, you're going to see other companies (do the same)."

A spokesman for advertising sales at the MSN network, one of the web sites that featured the Ford recall banner ad, called it a "watershed moment among other watershed moments.

"Over the last year or so, we've seen more and more traditional offline companies that don't sell direct to people via the Web adopt online ad campaigns," the MSN spokesman said.


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