DEARBORN - February is Black History Month, but Ford Motor Company’s focus on African Americans is an ongoing effort that continues throughout the year.
“Ford is committed to the African American market and we recognize the contributions that these consumers make to the brand’s overall bottom line,” said Shawn Thompson, manager, Multicultural Marketing. “We understand how important this market has been to our truck business, and we recognize the continued importance of African American consumers as we look to build our car business.”
According to Thompson, the primary way Ford reaches out to African Americans is through community events.
“Research tells us that African Americans appreciate businesses that are active within their community,” she said. “So we connect with these important consumers by going where they are.”
One of the most successful events Ford participates in is the annual Tom Joyner Foundation Fantastic Voyage presented by Ford, a cruise that benefits the Tom Joyner Foundation and students attending historically black colleges and universities.
“Tom Joyner is a very successful radio personality and Ford’s involvement with the cruise enables us to support the African American community at an event where education is first,” said Thompson. “The Tom Joyner Foundation helps kids stay in college, and that’s why we are there.”
According to Thompson, Ford actually loads a new vehicle onto the cruise ship for display. There’s a product specialist on board and old school games are played that include information about Ford products. According to cruise research, guests indicate it’s like having a floating dealership without the pressure of a salesperson.
“This year our emphasis will be on the Fusion, and it’s all about getting consumers to learn as much as they can about the product in a fun and playful way,” said Thompson.
In 2012, Ford was the presenting sponsor of the event and the brand new Escape was on the top deck. Approximately 2,500 people attended the cruise and 63 vehicles, including 11 Escapes and 8 Fusions, were sold as a result of promotions before, during and after along with 16,437 handraisers. For 2011 in which the brand new Explorer was on board, almost 200 vehicles were sold. This year’s cruise – which takes place April 7-14 – is already sold out.
Ford is also the title sponsor of the Annual Ford Neighborhood Awards (formerly the Hoodie Awards) – an awards program hosted by radio and television personality Steve Harvey that is designed to provide recognition to highly accomplished members of the urban community in 12 categories.
“We are involved with the Ford Neighborhood Awards program because it celebrates entrepreneurs within the neighborhoods,” said Thompson. “It’s like the Oscars of the black community because it recognizes the, Best Church, Best Choir, etc.” Best High School is also a category and Detroit’s very own Cass Technical High School has won several years.
Ford has had a long-standing partnership with Harvey. In addition to supporting the Neighborhood Awards, Ford has been the exclusive automotive advertiser on The Steve Harvey Morning Show for eight years.
“Our relationship with Steve Harvey is a great example of us tapping into consumer insights to touch the business not only through community efforts but through powerful marketing executions,” said Thompson.
Another impactful event that Ford participates in is the Essence Festival, the largest African American event in the country that includes three days of concerts and empowerment seminars. This year will mark Ford’s fifth year as the exclusive automotive sponsor of the event, which generated more than 13,000 handraisers for Ford products in 2012.
Social media definitely plays an important role in marketing to African American consumers as well. Ford is a sponsor of the BET Awards and in 2011, Ford used a Twitter campaign which included a “live” Focus sweepstakes resulting in a special hash tag becoming the number one trending topic in a matter of seconds.
“We’ve taken a laser-like focus in evaluating all of our experiential activities to ensure that they are allowing us to maximize our reach to African American consumers in a way that is relevant, organic and meaningful to them,” said Thompson.
While community events are a primary focus, Thompson says Ford also creates television and print advertising that is specifically targeted toward African Americans. Those television ads air primarily on BET, TBS, TNT NBA games, and during special programs such as The Real Housewives of Atlanta. Ford was also a sponsor of the 2013 Stellar Gospel Music Awards presenting the Song of the Year Award and the exclusive sponsor of the Ford Black College Quiz.
“We know that it’s important for African Americans to see someone like themselves in our print and broadcast ads,” said Thompson. “We often look to showcase the image of African Americans that are going to the next level (Go Further) so to speak as it relates to their lives and where they are within their life.”
Thompson says that Ford likes to show with its creative and marketing campaigns that there is a great value placed on being smarter with advertising dollars as it relates to the African American community.
The 2013 Ford Escape campaign was launched last May and the most recent 2013 Fusion “The Rose” campaign launched in November. All can be viewed http://www.ford.com/brandnew.
Whether it’s through experiential marketing, radio, print or television advertising, Thompson says the most important aspect of Ford’s approach to reaching African American consumers is authenticity.
“It’s important to develop a genuine relationship with the consumer,” she said. “You can’t take a cookie-cutter approach when it comes to communicating with this important audience.”