Any name you like, as long as it’s black
“What I’ve learned in my career is it’s product that matters, not the name.”
This is a big gauntlet thrown down by Ford marketing chief Jim Farley in a recent article from USA Today; a whole chicken and egg debate about the place in marketing of the brand name. Surely, no one would doubt the importance of a brand name? Would they?
Lets dig a bit deeper into what he’s actually saying. Basically, it seems to come down to brand names being irrelevant because Ford make fantastic products and that’s all that matters.
I think you’re wrong, Jimbo.
I would say that Mr F is a very practical man, but possibly not one with a huge imagination. I also think that he’s too close to the product. Too many manufacturers get caught up in what they make. They feel that their product is so good that it doesn’t need a name; doesn’t even need marketing, because it’s that good. The product is king, the rest is just window dressing. But, what’s this? There are other products I can choose from? How am I going to decide which one I should buy?
Motor companies virtually invented branding and image for heaven’s sake, so I don’t imagine that Mr F feels that branding is dead. He’s being disingenuous; Ford have a long heritage and lots of affection and nostalgia for their marques. However, he can’t just rely on the past. Consumers need to be able to differentiate models and see what’s new and exciting. They need to know how and where to trade up.
What he appears to be saying is that Ford, consumers and the media shouldn’t get hung up on sub-brand nomenclature and I can quite understand his reluctance to add complexity and a fancy naming system where they don’t need it.
Why do I think he is too close to the product? Because he understands the codes, the way the business talks about the product, the way they sell them in to the trade. The alphanumerics with M’s and X’s and Z’s and other sexy figures that appeal to certain people, mostly men, who have an interest in cars.
“What are you driving these days?”
“I just had my WX2ZZPi delivered.”
It’s a simple question can pigeonhole you faster than a taste in folk music or Farah slacks. Men judge other men, and the quality of their driving, on their wheels. Sad but true.
A few alphanumeric car names are shorthand for a classic model, the sort of thing that we all might know (but probably choose not to). The rest is pub talk, for car anoraks, to impress with the size of your knowledge on automobiles. Mr F might be one of these men. He may expect that everyone knows the subtle differences available in every range. Hell, if you want to buy a car, you’ll go out of your way to find out the difference between a Number 1 and a Number 2, won’t you?
Or, it all might simply be that Big Jim is a champion for building brand desirability and myth through creating a veil of mystery and intrigue. No badges needed. The ‘Probe’ has cult status, doesn’t it? (Funnily enough, they don’t make that one any more).
Maybe, if the cars aren’t selling, they aren’t conjuring up the magic of the past. Maybe they are no longer relevant to consumers? If not enough has been done to make the brand special, should we blame the name, or blame what hasn’t been done to make what people want. Maybe it is time to consign a few brands to the scrap heap.
Names are there to help distinguish and differentiate. They are far from irrelevant. People buy ‘Ford’, they buy into ‘Lincoln’ or ‘Mustang’; but mostly they buy a lifestyle; the freedom of the road. They aspire to the next model up the food chain. Mr F, I am not a number, I am a free person with my own personality, reflected by my choice of car. I am my car.
But, I am not a Ford. I am much more than that. I am different from every other car.
Now, how am I going to tell people which kind of car I am?
In: Brand Strategy, Naming, Viewpoints · Tags: Automotive, Brand naming, Cars, Ford, USA Today