Next year, the Ford Fiesta makes its U.S. debut. The superefficient, sporty compact has proved enough of a success in Europe and Asia to draw the attention of American drivers, and their newfound thirst for all things small. It’s become an object of transatlantic envy — much of it expressed in online forums — since its launch late last year. In past years, such yearnings were likely to go unrequited. But Ford Motor’s “One Ford” strategy, which is pushing toward a single global lineup, means this small car will be navigating American roads in 2010.
A Green Apple Fiesta hatchback on display outside the Javits Center at the 2009 New York International Auto Show.
Technically, it’s already here. On the stand at the New York Auto Show, Ford previewed a vibrant green Fiesta, with “1/100” emblazoned on the hood and “fiestamovement.com” printed on the side. Over the next six months, 100 Americans get to drive the Fiesta. For free. With free insurance, free gas and free parking. In exchange, they will document their experience online — blogging it, tweeting it, posting to Facebook, YouTube and Flickr — and undertake monthly “missions” set by Ford. (Full disclosure.: Although Ford is a Razorfish client, the agency has no involvement with the Fiesta Movement campaign.)
The Fiesta Movement is a clear acknowledgment by Ford’s leadership team that it expects a certain kind of driver here: relatively young, emphatically connected. As the campaign name implies, the automaker is putting its faith in the grassroots power of social media to generate buzz and demand. This is a significant acknowledgment in an industry that hasn’t been quick to embrace viral tactics. But Ford stands to gain: If successful, the campaign will bring a fresh new audience to the brand and make Fiesta a household name among a crowd skeptical of traditional marketing.
Not that a social approach is intrinsically immune to skepticism. There’s already some debate about how trustworthy these posts will be given all the free perks those drivers are getting. Are they willing to bite that proverbial hand? Ford, at least, has taken the shrewd step of being completely upfront about the arrangement. And Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media, told Wired.com that among Ford’s directives to its 100 drivers was to be truthful: “We’ve told them to be completely honest,” he said. “That’s the only way it’s going to work. We won’t tell them what to say, nor will we censor or edit any of their content.” Ford seems to get the double-sided nature of social media, where success requires you to assume the risk of criticism. They’re banking on a favorable balance. If European success and American demand is anything to go by, Fiesta Movement should be worth the risk.
Ford Fiesta photo by Mary S. Butler