TBT: The Agency That Created Many of Ford’s Most Memorable Ads for the Past 80 Years

Dec 14, 2023

From “There’s a Ford in Your Future” to “Have You Driven a Ford Lately?,” Ford has had no shortage of compelling advertising campaigns. Many of the most memorable, however, have come as a product of the company’s affiliation with its longtime agency partner, J. Walter Thompson (JWT), which began 80 years ago. JWT and its many notable campaigns have helped sell Ford cars, trucks, vans and SUVs, as well as Ford tractors, Genuine Ford Parts and service at Ford Dealerships over the last eight decades.

The pioneering and innovative firm was founded in 1864 and is credited with developing and further expanding print, radio and television advertising. Other well-known JWT clients include Kodak, RCA, and Kraft, among many, many others. 

JWT actually held the Ford advertising account briefly around 1910 as the young company was launching the Model T and setting the initial course of its destiny. Several former JWT staffers took positions with Ford in the years that followed. It was a former agency executive working in the Ford News Bureau, though, who attempted to broker a meeting between Ford executives and JWT in 1942.

‘There’s a Ford in Your Future’

The firm eventually landed the Ford account in December 1943, at a time when Ford’s domestic production was paused for World War II. Its first campaign became one of the most memorable: “There’s a Ford in Your Future,” a slogan meant to keep the public’s attention during the downtime. 

A series of print ads from the 1940s featured various slices of Americana captured inside a crystal ball. The spots ran in the winter of 1943-44, and the popular tagline made its way on to a Ford Motor Company blimp between 1946 and 1948, as well as a roadway billboard. It was so prevalent, in fact, that Ford continued to incorporate the slogan in postwar advertising into the 1950s.

The ads promised “a smart, new, peacetime Ford will be waiting” following an Allied victory overseas, adding that production would resume as soon as the company received the necessary approvals. Another ad announced the resumption of limited civilian production, encouraging Ford owners to visit their dealer for regular maintenance in order to extend the life of their existing vehicle.

Postwar Push

JWT’s support continued with the 1949 Ford – the first completely redesigned car of the postwar era – as it would for Ford icons like the Thunderbird, Mustang and Taurus. For the Mustang launch in 1964, the agency purchased airtime on all three major broadcast networks to introduce the car to the world. Other well-known campaigns have included “Built Ford Tough” and “Better Idea,” as well as those featuring popular artists such as Charles Schultz and Howard Scott. In the 1960s, Ford had the exclusive rights to use Schultz’s “Peanuts” gang in ads, billboards and animated commercials.

Bringing Buyers Back to Ford

What would become JWT’s most popular Ford campaign, though, arrived in the 1980s and ‘90s, when it asked: “Have You Driven a Ford Lately?” The commercial tagline was featured in print ads and even worked its way into the speeches prepared for Ford execs. The phrase was heard an estimated 20 billion times in just its first eight years of usage.

Another memorable campaign ran concurrently. “Quality is Job 1” stressed the company’s emphasis on quality between 1981 and 1998. Ford employees were cast as part of the series in print ads featuring their close-ups flanked by their comments. The spots also featured “Quality is Job 1” in big, bold letters at the top. TV commercials were set inside Ford facilities and employees there shared their contributions to Ford’s quality.

World Record Pursuits

In 1999, JWT helped Ford into the Guinness Book of World Records, creating the first global commercial featuring teen opera sensation Charlotte Church. The spot was simultaneously broadcast on nearly every network and TV channel worldwide. The commercial is estimated to have reached one billion viewers. In 2016, the firm orchestrated the pulling of the largest flag at a sporting event, another world record, behind a Ford F-Series Super Duty prior to a NASCAR championship race. 

Today, WPP-held agencies, including Wunderman Thompson, which was formed after a 2018 merger between JWT and Wunderman, are still introducing Ford products and services to the world and telling the company’s story to loyal Ford fans and future customers alike. 

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