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Exhaust Note #27: Ford Flexes Creative for New Model

Is the Flex a Cool, Tricked Out Hipster?
Ford has an all-new crossover SUV/minivan/people hauler for the 2009MY, the Flex we’ve brought you several reports on. The Flex has been filtering into dealerships, and this week was the full and ferocious advertising start.


Flex TV ads hit hard with the start of the 2008-09 NFL season (click here for one), but unconventional outreaches include iPhone apps that allow a 360-degree view of the interior; Xbox, Dish Network, and Yahoo technology offering photos and videos on-demand; skits on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson featuring Flex; and description videos on Flex’s home page. On one hand, we’d like to give Ford kudos for enabling Team Detroit to create such an all-encompassing, innovative approach. On the other hand, this is a two-box people hauler and not a sexy icon of technology. Are they trying too hard?

TV and Videos
The most traditional elements are the TV and Ford web sites. Flex came to television in highly styled ads directed by music video director Mark Romanek and using music of DJ Squeek E. Clean. They talk about a 24mpg seven-passenger crossover changing the world. As Chevrolet Traverse and siblings meet that particular challenge, Ford doesn’t claim to be first. The ad grabs your attention with slick music and the car moving through the world like electricity on the grid, though little substance. There is a second spot I haven’t seen yet. The “Grid” hits on attention getting, but misses on saying much about the product.


Highlight videos are available at, covering the interior, handling, exterior, and safety of Flex. I’d like to say they’re effective, but they did not load well on my computer. And here’s my problem with stuff like that: More often than not, it takes too long to load and doesn’t often playback well. I tried to watch the interior video. It is a minute and fifteen seconds long, but the audio track played along jerkily while the screen stuck on one image as the video was “buffering”. For several minutes after the audio was done playing, the video kept buffering, eventually playing with as many hiccups and jerks as the audio track before it. Once it was done, I hit replay. No dice; I still had shaky images that couldn’t keep up with the audio. Still, I tried the Handling video. Same issues, and I’m done with those; if I’d have really been car-shopping I would not have tried that long.
E-Ink for Esquire: Ninety Days of Motion
Among the cool tricks Ford tries with Flex advertising has potential for changing the way we read newspapers and magazines. It will gain Ford more in word-of-mouth for trying something cool than it will in reaching actual potential buyers. Ford Flex sponsored Esquire‘s October 2008 cover, which uses E-Ink imaging film to have changing text. The same Vizplex Imaging Film (used in the Kindle e-book system from Amazon) allows the words “The 21st Century is Now” to flash on this seventy-fifth anniversary issue of the magazine, with easy visibility from most angles and in many light conditions. On the inside flap ad is a moving Flex, using the E-ink technology to show the car in motion. (Of course, it has been posted to YouTube; here is just one…)
To keep the words moving, Esquire commissioned a company in China for a small battery that will last about ninety days. Only 100,000 copies of the fancy cover (versus a monthly circulation of 750,000) were produced, with the first kept for posterity. Esquire has an exclusive with E-ink in print through 2009. The battery itself is said to have cost the in the triple digits to develop.
Aside from the E-ink promotion, Flex print ads are pushing the energetic and exciting. One tagline reads: “CPR for the Dead of Night.” Another “Are the hairs on the back of your neck begging for exercise?” The one that makes the most sense for a cool family people hauler is “It has a refridgerator. And many other ways to chill,” highlighting the expanded sunroof, excellent legroom, and customizable interior lighting. Energetic and exciting are not words that come to mind when I see the Flex.


Back to Car Advertising
First, kudos Ford for going off the norm and looking for ways to stand out in the advert crowd, and for getting involved in the E-ink evolution. Whatever E-ink does to our future, Ford was part of its first print application.
As a product, Flex offers features that are only now making their way to the mainstream, and some firsts. It is a terrific high-tech product. But its natural home is with the family, and the ads so far don’t speak to that element. Anyone looking to haul seven people occasionally and four to six most of the time likely will prioritize financial and economic motives over being electrified by the ad campaign. The Flex delivers more on practicality than it does style. Even as it looks a bit different than other large crossover SUVs, its shape has been seen in products like Scion xB and MINI Clubman.
Among the strengths of this campaign are the ways potential buyers can opt in for more information. The TV to hooks ’em and the interactive outlets tell the full story. The iPhone app, Yahoo, satellite TV, and even Internet videos allow consumers to be led and opt in for more information and may enable strong reach and focused attention.
Once the launch is officially complete, the challenge will be to keep the Flex in front of consumers. Electric advertising and slick music need to be supported with follow-up campaigns that continue to spread the word and raise awareness. Ford has used buildup like FunkMaster Flex and Chip Foose editions showing at SEMA and other regional shows, but they also need to reach the family decision-makers.

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