DETROIT (April 2, 2001)—When advertising for the 2002 Ford Explorer breaks this week, Ford will not headline the Explorer´s safety improvements, despite the addition of side curtain airbags and rollover sensors.
Instead, Ford will appeal to the 3.5 million who have owned Explorers by advertising the sport-utility as bigger, more powerful and smoother riding.
Safety is part of the Explorer´s marketing message. But it is not getting the spotlight. Ford is shying away from a safety pitch that might remind shoppers of last year´s Firestone tire recall.
Eight months have passed since Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. recalled 6.5 million tires, many mounted on Ford Explorers. As Ford launches the first substantial redesign of the 10-year-old Explorer, marketers are striving to make the highly publicized recall a non-event.
"People saw (the recall) as a tire issue. It wasn´t an issue with the vehicle," said Doug Scott, Ford SUV group marketing manager, citing internal Ford research.
Ford is positioning the sport-utility for people who are "experience collectors." The company hired a cultural anthropologist to visit the homes of Explorer owners. The anthropologist charted the type of art hanging on the walls and the food in the refrigerator in an effort to peg the vehicle´s owners.
Ford will spend $40 million advertising the Explorer in 2001, according to Advertising Age, a sister publication of Tire Business.
This week, Ford begins the Explorer TV campaign with a 15-second teaser commercial. The sport-utility drives through an active geyser field in Iceland. A 30-second spot debuting the week of April 23 carries the same theme, with the Explorer traversing geyser eruptions timed to Beethoven´s "Ode to Joy."
The voice-over states: "The all-new 2002 Ford Explorer. Smoother. Bigger. More Powerful. Its praises are being sung both far and wide."
Magazine ads show the vehicle against hiking, fishing and skiing backdrops.
Direct mail and e-mail communications to Explorer owners will be targeted to individual interests.
For example, if Ford data indicate that an owner uses the vehicle primarily for commuting, the 2002 Explorer´s interior space and adjustable accelerator and brake pedals will be highlighted. If the data show the Explorer is used for family hauling, the communication will spotlight the vehicle´s optional third-row seat.
The outdoor campaign includes billboards mounted on trailers parked in Detroit and New York City. The 10-feet-tall billboards will be surrounded by birdseed. As birds peck away at the food, the Explorer will be revealed under the headline: "This bird-watching experience brought to you by the smoother, bigger all-new Explorer 02."
The redesigned Explorer has a wheelbase that is 2 inches longer than its predecessor. The track is 2.5 inches wider. An independent rear suspension has been added to create a smoother ride.
The standard 4.0-liter V-6 engine has been re-engineered. Ed Molchany, Explorer marketing manager, said a new optional 4.6-liter V-8 goes into production this week and will begin reaching dealerships in May.
Ms. Connelly writes for Automotive News, a sister publication of Tire Business.