Have you seen the 2012 Ford Focus Doug campaign? The integrated social media campaign with an orange sock puppet named Doug driving around with his "official" Ford sidekick (John), meeting and greeting prospective Ford Focus customers, verbally zinging them, and capturing it for YouTube videos?

Yes, that's right; a smartass orange sock puppet is the spokesperson for the 2012 Ford Focus.

The campaign broke earlier this year, and Scott Monty, the head of social media for Ford Motor Company, shared several YouTube Ford Focus videos from the integrated social media campaign during his outstanding presentation at Friday's Social Media Club of Kansas City breakfast.

What would you do Mr. or Ms. Brand Manager?

As a brand manager, if someone came to you pitching the idea of a puppet spokesperson who, the few times he does talk about your product's features, does so irreverently, how long would it take to stop that social media concept cold? Probably not long since a traditional marketing view suggests six glaring reasons why Focus Doug is ill conceived:

1. "The spokesperson isn't known, and oh by the way, he's an orange sock puppet."

"A spokesperson should bring a great reputation, a built-in audience, and a connection to the brand.  It's about being able to relate to the audience. An orange sock puppet, especially one with an attitude, doesn't relate to anyone."

EXCEPT can you say, "Tiger Woods."

Known spokespeople bring fans along with potential indiscretions and falls from grace. An unknown, inanimate spokesperson (with no life beyond the one you give it), provides you complete control and no risk of overshadowing your product.


2. "The story isn't linear."

"The characters are 'introduced' without any real setup. There's little rhyme or reason for why only a few videos include potential buyers, sometimes the product is hardly mentioned, and it's not even shown in others."

EXCEPT a non-linear story line creates surprise.

It also allows for mini-serializations throughout the videos and the flexibility of introducing the variety necessary to sustain viewer interest through weekly releases and an integrated social media campaign.

3. "There are too many videos."

"You can’t expect people to watch 40 or 50 brand videos."

EXCEPT viewers want to come back and see more from engaging characters.

They're not videos about the brand. The brand is simply another character surrounded by even more engaging characters. Multiple videos provide the opportunity to develop the brand character across multiple dimensions and multiple videos.


4. "The situations aren't realistic."

"A puppet offering free (typically poorly ending) rides, unsuccessfully using the features, and being mauled by kittens has nothing to do with selling a car."

EXCEPT introducing a non-human spokesperson provides tremendous story flexibility.

Only having one foot in reality enables engaging story lines traditional situations can't offer. A unique character and unusual situations can prompt an audience to sit through multiple videos, cumulatively creating a strong impression of why the product is cool.

5. "There's so much dialogue, you can't understand it."

"With videos inside a moving vehicle and multiple people bantering, it's hard to understand what's being said. Viewers won't even understand the minimal product messages being delivered."

EXCEPT the challenging repartee forces attention.

The character interaction is so funny and the situations so unusual, it prompts viewers to watch the videos multiple times - in part to catch what they missed; in part to re-hear laugh lines they did hear initially.


6. "The content is PG-13 but the brand is G-rated."

"A G-rated brand is about family, tradition, and America - not bleeped words. The spokespuppet hits on a female executive, propositions a potential buyer, and suggests a wet t-shirt contest to two young women trying the rain-triggered windshield wipers. That's WAY off brand."

EXCEPT when a brand's trying to get edgier, you actually have to GET edgier.

When cultivating a new less vanilla brand perception, edginess can be essential, especially when trying to reach a younger audience. Moving from G to PG-13 with a small subset of messages the audience will see leads to the right overall message mix.

Now what do you think?

Would you pull the plug on the Ford "Focus Doug" before the campaign even started? I hope not, but decisions like that happen all the time when brand marketers are stuck in the status quo and what's always worked - even if the traditional things are not working as well as they did before.

For Ford brand managers to move ahead with "Focus Doug" shows a true understanding that future success is different than what's worked previously, yet not completely brand new either. Finding the right place somewhere in the middle is tricky.

But extraordinary brand managers go looking for it because they know it's vital to a successful brand staying successful. - Mike Brown


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