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Bailouts, Ball-caps, Chit-Chat, and the Birth of a Commercial

Here’s a thread – New Ford Commercial!! – in The Work Room that brings up some interesting points about my appearance in some recent Ford ads. At issue, is the level of authenticity in past spots, as compared to the Mike you know from Dirty Jobs.

I want to show you one of the most recent commercials I shot for Ford. It’s called “The Plan,” and I’m fairly certain that it will not change the face of advertising as we know it. However, I find this spot interesting for several reasons, and think you will too.

I shot this in Chicago a few weeks ago, along with a dozen other commercials for a new campaign called Why Ford, Why Now. Like all of Fords advertising, the Why Ford Why Now campaign was produced by Team Detroit, a division of J. Walter Thompson. This particular campaign however, was not inspired by a copywriter – it was inspired by you.

It’s true. This spot, and most everything else in the Why Ford Why Now campaign, sprung from a series of conversations that have been taking place right here in The mrW Water Cooler over the last 8 months. That strikes me as very unusual, and very cool. So I thought you might be interested to hear how a few of your random comments made in a modest chat room helped shape a multi-million dollar advertising campaign.

It started back in January, while I was visiting my folks in Florida, around the same time our government decided to bailout AIG. That decision led to some lively debate all over the country, and caused many people to question the wisdom of buying homes with nothing down and adjustable rate mortgages – a policy that always struck me as deeply insane. Some very thoughtful and worthwhile conversations around that issue began to unfold on this site, and to a smaller (but much louder) extent, in my father’s condominium. I might have gotten a little worked up in both places, and said some rather declarative things about “consequences” and “personal responsibility,” none of which I’m inclined to retract. Here is the actual thread that put the issue firmly on my radar, the AIG discussion,and got me thinking seriously about the unintended consequences of government bailouts.

A month or so later, we would all learn that along with AIG’s giant debt, the financial burdens of GM and Chrysler would also become our collective responsibility. On a personal and selfish level, this was more troubling than the bank bailouts. As a paid spokesman Ford, I was greatly relieved (and proud), that my employer didn’t take the money, but I worried that GM and Chrysler would soon emerge from bankruptcy with piles of debt magically erased. That struck me as a colossal and unfair advantage, and I said as much right here. Conversations like this one – Ford pays for it’s Prudence – began to appear.

If you read through all 50 pages of that thread, you’ll see that opinions on the matter are very pointed. Some feel the issue of not accepting taxpayer money is an inappropriate claim to make in the context of a marketing campaign. Others argue that financial independence is no less relevant to consumers than other industry claims like quality, fuel-efficiency, and safety. It’s an interesting exchange, which I later learned was being followed closely by some executives at Ford and JWT. (Yikes.)

Anyway, at the end of May, around the same time these and other related conversations were playing out, I was asked to shoot a new campaign for Ford. This one was called “Drive the Difference,” and featured yours truly, cruising around San Francisco in Ford vehicles while making casual pronouncements like “Ford has quality that can’t be beat by Honda or Toyota!” The cars in question were all mounted and covered with lights and cameras, and came fully loaded with a high-strung English director and a grumpy German cameraman crouched in the backseat, yelling at me with fantastic accents as I tried to run over as few pedestrians as possible while repeating the aforementioned line over and over. Great fun. If you missed those spots, here’s one to refresh your memory.

Drive the Difference was a successful campaign, though I must say the wardrobe was personally perplexing. I was asked to wear an expensive linen shirt, very nice, but far too clean for my taste, and harder to iron than a wad of used Kleenex. I was also asked to forego my trusty ball cap, which many of you know to be an extension of my head. Consequently, my mother didn’t even recognize me, and my father thought I was dressed for a “yuppie wedding.” Also, my scripts didn’t afford me the opportunity to congratulate Ford for having a plan that allowed them to say “no” to taxpayer money, which I had been rehearsing in The Water Cooler, and hoping to explain on camera.

No matter. At the end of the shoot, I got my chance, sort of. My friends from JWT asked if I would say a few quick words to the Ford dealers around the country. This is called a “dealer shout-out,” and the idea is to offer something encouraging to the people who are truly on the front line of selling Ford vehicles. So, without giving it too much thought, I turned to the camera and told the dealers what was on my mind. As you watch this “dealer shout-out,” bear in mind that it was unscripted, unrehearsed, and reflective of no one’s opinion but mine.

Look familiar? As you can easily see, the style and tone of the shout-out was a big hit with the dealers, and the link between it and “The Plan” spot seems pretty obvious. But the better story, and the purpose of this post, is the link between the shout-out and our little Water Cooler. It was you guys that got me seriously thinking and writing about the larger issue of government bailouts, and it was here that people suggested that Ford get some credit for having a workable plan that kept them independent, when their American counterparts were entering bankruptcy.

Ideas go where they go, and the ones formed here made their serendipitous way into an unscripted dealer shout-out, which in turn inspired a commercial called “The Plan,” and then, a national campaign called Why Ford, Why Now, currently airing on a TV near you.

And it all started with some Idle Chat, right here in the mikeroweWORKS Water Cooler.

So, thanks for that, very much. (Your ten percent is in the mail.)

Mike