When Ford launched its 2013 Fusion there was a lot at stake. The automotive industry is like a bare-knuckle cage fight these days, and the automaker was launching a considerably redesigned product in a world where anyone with fingers and a Twitter feed can launch a screed at will. If consumers didn’t like the new car, Ford—and everyone else—would hear about it.
And boy did they hear about it. But rather than being fed 140 characters of finely tuned snark, Ford’s new model drew rave reviews. "I swear the new @FordFusion is one of the sexiest I’ve seen in a while. I love that nose!" said one Twitter user recently. "Just saw a new Ford Fusion and a Jaguar side by side and the body style is the same. Nicely done, Ford," said another.
To thank those fans saying nice things—and to challenge naysayers who mostly called out the lack of a V6 engine—Ford launched "Random Acts of Fusion," a digital campaign that directly responded to Internet chatter and rewarded people in surprising and creative ways, such as ambushing Fusion drivers with a pop-up car wash, offering skeptics a test drive, or having comedian Reggie Watts remix their tweets. Themes such as the car’s design, fuel efficiency, technology options, and the choice between different-power options became the pillars of the campaign, which all manifest themselves around the tag #backatyou.
Created by Team Detroit and a creative team assembled by production studio Ghost Robot (including director-writers Adam Levite and Benjamin Dickinson, and writer-stand-up comic Erin Lennox), the quirky campaign—featuring ballerinas, ice carts, beach balls, and balloons, and starring comedians Watts, Dave Hill, and Paul F. Tompkins, who hosts each piece—is hardly what you’d expect from a car company. As agency Managing Partner Rick Ross says, this fresh and funny tone was the right strategy in its ambition of "reaching buyers who have not considered Ford recently, if ever."
In creating the campaign’s tone, Levite says his and Dickinson’s goal was "to continuously tweak expectations and make quirky, earnest, geeky spots that push against car company machismo." Dickinson adds, "We wanted to create an environment that was about celebrating the excitement of the Fusion fans, because that excitement is genuinely there. People express their affection or loathing for the car with hyperbole, metaphor, poetry, humor, and nonsense, so there was no need to manufacture anything." And Ford was totally on board…to a point. Says Levite: "After our third spot, word came from the top executives at Ford: ‘great spots, enough with the ballerinas.’"
Ghost Robot executive producer Mark De Pace says the team first created an overall campaign narrative that could accommodate micro stories as well as the larger talking points of the campaign. They then cataloged all the social media comments, researched the person who posted it, and once a candidate was deemed viable, their comment was then adapted into a script. Levite and Dickinson codirected the first spot of the campaign, called "Prologue," and from there, they each directed their own content, joined by Joey Garfield, a third director from Ghost Robot’s stable. All told, the team created 33 pieces of content, shot in six different cities. Highlights include live experiences held in Miami and Austin, remixes by Reggie Watts, and a three-hour live webcast hosted by Dave Hill where the grand prize was a new Ford Fusion. The content lived on the Ford Fusion YouTube page, with peripheral content being spread to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr. They also built a micro-app called "Reasons to Love Fusion," also hosted on the YouTube Page.
Levite says in creating the spots they also wanted to ensure the people chosen were active participants in the spots. "We wanted to avoid the Publishers Clearing House syndrome, where real people are passive participants and the camera shows their reactions," he says. "We made sure that our people were active, engaged participants, and we made sure their comments were opportunities to trigger funny, quirky storytelling."
Like puking. In "Prologue," Fusion detractor Michael C tweeted that the lack of a V6 engine was a "big mistake." To counter the criticism, Ford picked him up and took him for the test drive of his life. "We flew him to a test track in Alabama and told him it was a marketing event, then surprised him and gave him a helmet and strapped him in to the car," says Levite. "Unfortunately, he had just eaten lunch. Needless to say, he stepped out of the car after two laps and vomited." Thankfully, that bit of vérité didn’t make the final cut, but in a cheeky nod to the upchuck, if you look closely in the next scene, you’ll see that someone texts over Michael’s picture, ‘Guy loses cookies after test drive.’ "
Another amusing moment that actually made the final cut came in "Good Carma." In this setup, if passersby clicked a giant "Like" button next to a Fusion, increasingly ridiculous things would happen to them. But Levite says that for one man, the simplest gag was enough. "For a first gag, a beautiful young woman caught your eye and smiled as she walked passed. When she smiled at this older gentleman, his eyes lit up and he immediately turned and started to follow her the wrong way down the block, talking to her nonstop and asking her out."
But not all positive fan feedback was suitable as subject matter for a Random Act of Fusion. Says Dickinson, "There was a lady, a mom, who tweeted a picture of her kids lying in the trunk of the Fusion, that said, "got dat trunk spaaaaace!" We were obsessed with that comment and tried so hard to build a spot around it, but we couldn’t do it in the end because the Ford legal people had issues with depicting putting people in trunks apparently. Fortunately, there was just an endless stream of priceless shit like that. The best comments ended up in the Reggie videos."
This blending of real sentiment with on-the-fly comedy resulted in more than 11 million views paid and earned views of the campaign and nearly 200,000 new Ford Fusion Facebook fans. But it could also have been Reggie Watts, who was Levite’s favorite part of the campaign. "Reggie Watts’ spontaneous songwriting was a highlight for me, especially his improvised line ‘Ford Fusion, The Future of Adjectives.’ I plan on making my own line of 'The Future of Adjectives’ T-shirts for summertime."