Ford drove the road not taken when it was mulling a spokesman for an online, social-media blitz for the new 2012 Focus. The automaker tapped Doug, a simple, orange puppet as the car’s “spokespuppet,” created specifically for the viral effort in the US.

Doug’s official debut promoting the Focus started this week with a video on YouTube.com spoofing a Ford press conference.

The puppet, voiced by comedian Paul F. Tomkins, also appears in other YouTube videos, spotlighting the small car’s interior and exterior features. Other videos will be added soon.

Doug is the creation of Ford’s ad agency, WPP Group’s TeamDetroit in suburban Detroit, in collaboration with director Paul Feig of TV’s The Office.

In addition to YouTube, the social media campaign will live on Facebook, where Doug already has more than 400 “likes.” Doug will also be competing with Charlie Sheen and Lady Gaga for followers on Twitter.

Angie Kozleski, a spokeswoman at Ford, told AutoTrader that videos with Doug will eventually expand to more mainstream web sites and consumers are likely to see him doing impromptu puppet-on-the-street interviews with people about the Focus.

Ford is targeting the effort at people who “live online” and may have missed the big, pre-launch Focus Rally: America interactive road race that recently wrapped up, she said. Ford introduced that rally with two television commercials during this year’s pre-game show for the Super Bowl. All 30 episodes of the rally can still be seen at hulu.com/focusrally.

But why a puppet and not a flesh-and-blood spokeperson?

“A puppet is simple in nature and Doug is not a known character so people have no pre-conceived notions about him,” Kozleski said. The puppet’s simplicity “lets the comedy come through.”

Other marketers have used puppets in their advertising. Remember the sock puppet dog for Pets.com? Many companies like having a character to represent their brands, such as the king from Burger King and Taco Bell’s chihuahua.

Although other carmakers have used known cartoon characters in their advertising over the years, using a puppet as a spokesperson is very rare indeed.

author photo

Jean Halliday is a seasoned journalist with the nation's longest consecutive run covering auto advertising. Her years in the trenches include stints at Automotive News, Adweek and Advertising Age. The native New Yorker now lives outside the Motor City. You can read Jean's blog at AutoAdOpolis.wordpress.com.

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