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Ford Focus Launch Brings Reality TV to the Social Network

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author photo by Autotrader October 2010

How does Ford Motor Co. plan to top its own bar-setting, viral, pre-launch blitz for the Ford Fiesta as it readies the arrival of the next-generation Ford Focus early next year in the United States?

The automaker has teamed up with two creators of CBS TV's "The Amazing Race" to develop Focus Rally: America, a cross-country road trip loaded with challenges that can show off the cool, high-tech features of the 2012 Focus.

A casting call for a dozen social-media savvy and sassy contestants just started at www.focusrally.com, although Ford will also host open live auditions in 11 cities, including Boston, New York, Las Vegas and Austin. The winners will be paired into six, two-person teams to drive across country, competing in challenges that will be streamed on Hulu.com for five weeks starting in early February.

"The teams will rely on social media to help solve problems" and compete in the challenges, said Ford's Matt Van Dyke, director of marketing in the U.S.

There's also an option for arm-chair participation, since people can watch the 30-minute shows or three-minute clips on Hulu, follow the teams on Facebook and help their favorite team in challenges on various social networking sites.

Ford is giving away 10 new Focus models to online players and $100,000 to the winning team, said Elise Doganieri, one of "The Amazing Race" creators on hand for a recent media event near Ford world headquarters. At-home players "are virtually driving this car while on the web," she said.

The new Focus "is like a living, breathing being" in the rally for those following the series, Doganieri added. "So many eyeballs are going to see this car."

Co-creator Bertram van Munster, on hand live via Skype from Cannes, France, said unlike "The Amazing Race," no teams will be eliminated from the Focus Rally.

Ford is hoping to repeat the success it had with the Fiesta Movement, a viral pre-launch blitz that started a year before the car went on sale this spring. Ford gave the new Fiesta to 100 social media mavens, who tweeted, blogged, wrote about the car on Facebook and uploaded videos for the first six months before the second round with 20 teams of two people.

Those results were eye-popping: 6.2-million views on YouTube.com; 132,000 handraisers – 83% of whom were new to Ford and 30% under 25 years old; and a 14% conversion rate of handraisers to purchase agreements, well above the typical rate of between 1 and 2%.

While the main goal of the Fiesta effort was to build awareness for the return of the nameplate to the U.S., the Focus effort is aimed at shifting consumer's current perceptions of the original Focus, which arrived here in 1999, Ford's Van Dyke said. The new Focus "is a paradigm shift, It's a head turner."

Although Van Dyke predicted a fair amount of cross shopping for the Focus and smaller Fiesta, he said Focus buyers will be a bit older and a little more affluent. The median age for Focus buyers today is 47, but Ford expects it to get slightly younger.

Ford just unveiled the 2012 Focus at the Paris auto show and it will arrive in U.S. showrooms about the time the five-week rally ends, said Van Dyke.

Ford will reveal more components of the rally at the Los Angeles auto show next month, he said, possibly including the name of the rally's host and the location of the rally's start and finish. While he declined to reveal Ford's spending on the Focus pre-launch and traditional ad launch next year, Van Dyke said Focus will be the brand's biggest car launch of 2011.

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Ford Focus Launch Brings Reality TV to the Social Network - Autotrader