Ford and Yahoo! team on the Web

Deal includes personalised services for Ford car owners, advertising sponsorships and, eventually, Internet access in new auto models

Ford Motor and Yahoo! are significantly expanding their relationship. Announced Sunday at the annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit, the long-term deal includes personalised services for Ford car owners who are registered Yahoo! users, advertising sponsorships and, eventually, Internet access in new auto models.

The automaker and the leading Web portal are building a site on Yahoo! which will offer Ford car owners access to a number of services such as owner guides, recall notifications, Ford Credit account information, service reminders and vehicle maintenance logs.

"Our agreement with Yahoo! enables us to reach consumers where they spend their time online, to better develop an ongoing relationship with vehicle owners throughout the entire lifetime of their ownership," said Ford Motor chief executive and president Jac Nasser in a statement.

In order to develop closer ties to car owners, Detroit has been increasingly turning to the Internet's biggest players. For example, in December General Motors and America Online agreed to launch a GM channel on AOL, a joint venture that includes advertising on the online service and direct links to GM's BuyPower Web page.

As part of the Ford deal, visitors to the Yahoo! Auto channel or to Ford.com who fill out a questionnaire about their Ford vehicle (Ford, Lincoln, Mercury, Mazda, Jaguar and Volvo) will get easy access to chats, message boards and specific Yahoo! clubs. Yahoo! and Ford are building the sections together, says Yahoo! president Jeff Mallett. "There's a lot of activity in the online space about getting [customer] referrals and buying cars, but there's very little activity in owner relations, which we think is the next front for online," says Jamie Allison, e-marketing manager at Ford.

Some of the customised services have already been available to visitors to Ford's Web site, but for Ford, the partnership is a way to reach a greater number of car owners. "Yahoo! has over 105 million registered users," says Allison. "We feel a lot of our owners are Yahoo! registered users."

As part of the deal, Ford will buy banner ads on Yahoo! for Ford brands and sponsor special promotions.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed but Ford's Allison confirmed the marketing agreement was the car company's most extensive deal with an online service. Ford also has strategic marketing agreements with teen site Bolt.com and the women's service iVillage.com. Yahoo!'s Mallett said "this is not a short-term ad buy".

Eventually Ford owners will even get access to Yahoo! in their cars. The 2001 Lincoln and Focus models will be Internet-ready, and drivers will be able to call up Yahoo! content, says Mallett.

For Yahoo!, the Ford deal is part of the Web portal's aggressive push to reach people beyond the Internet, says Mallett, referring to its recent partnership with Kmart to develop a co-branded online service called bluelight.com. Yahoo! also has agreements to have its branded content distributed on mobile services such as Sprint PCS phones.

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