Ad Report Card

Apple Jacking

Car ads that look like iPod ads.

Ford Fusion The Spot: A man riding on the subway takes out his iPod, selects a song, and hits play. This somehow causes a trail of small bubbles to emanate from the iPod. They float up through the subway tunnel to a dance floor above, where they orbit a woman’s face. Later, the bubbles parade before a flat-screen television (while, for no evident reason, a cat leaps into view). Finally, the bubbles coalesce at the middle of a four-way intersection and transmogrify themselves into a car. “Because a car shouldn’t just use energy,” says the announcer, “it should create it. Introducing the all-new Ford Fusion. More innovation from Ford.”

This ad is all over the place. For one thing, it’s a car ad that shows people happily Rollerblading and riding the subway. Weird. The ad also flicks at the idea of fuel conservation (in that announcer’s line—”a car shouldn’t just use energy”), but the car is not a hybrid and its fuel efficiency is just so-so.

The oddest part by far, though, is that the spot—as it opens—masquerades as an iPod ad. There’s the iPod, clear as day. Center of the frame for several seconds. But this isn’t an iPod ad at all. Why the misdirection?

“We’re clearly going after the 25- to 35-year-olds,” says Linda Perry-Lube, car communications manager for Ford. “And this plays into that generation’s love of technology and their love of music. Also, the iPod is so iconic that people stop to watch the ad.”

Yes. Because people think it’s a new iPod ad. And iPod ads are often fresh and entertaining. When it turns out to be an ad for a midsize sedan, I imagine that people mostly lose interest.

Of course, it’s easy to see why Ford wants to link itself to the iPod. The iPod is a wildly successful product, and—thanks to Apple’s deft marketing—it’s got a halo of cool. Who wouldn’t try to glom on to that?

The risk for Ford, though, is that this move reeks of desperation. It seems to say: We can’t muster any cool of our own, so instead we’ll go for cool-by-association. Check it out, here’s an iPod … closely juxtaposed with our car! That’s right—we’re totally down with Apple, yo! We’re, like, best friends! We’re on the soccer team together, and we talk on the phone sometimes, and Apple even came to our birthday party last week!

I don’t think Ford needed to take this route. Check out a review of the Fusion from “For the first time in nearly two decades, Ford has a high-quality midsize sedan that can go toe-to-toe with the imports while maintaining a distinctly American style.” The car has the goods. At last, Ford gets some props for craftsmanship. But this ad is all style over substance.

Notice, also, that the review terms the Fusion a “family sedan.” Are families—even younger, vaguely with-it families—really buying up Honda Accords and Toyota Camrys because those cars are hip? Seems like this segment cares more about reliability, value, and a comfortable interior.

Speaking of interiors: In case you’re wondering, the Fusion’s stereo system has no input that you can plug your iPod into. Unlike, say, the Acura TSX—which does in fact have an MP3 input, and smartly advertises this feature in an ad that plays off the familiar white iPod earbuds.

Perry-Lube says Ford is shifting its focus away from trucks and SUVs, and that the midsize car market skews younger. “We haven’t sold cars to this audience in a while,” she notes. The rust shows.

Grade: C-. What’s wholly unclear is why Apple would want the iPod linked with Ford. Perry-Lube says Ford asked for permission to show an iPod in the ad and got it. But no money changed hands, which is slightly astonishing to me. If I were Apple, I’d have been far more reluctant to slum it with a slowly crumbling, manifestly uncool automaker. It could dilute the iPod’s hip factor, no?