Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ford's Corporate Turnaround Diary: Remarkable

Given that the home page shows Episode 10, I'm admittedly a little late to the party on this one. But Ford Motor Company's Website—Bold Moves: Documenting the Future of Fold—strikes me as nothing short of remarkable. At best, it's a watershed moment in corporate communications. At worst, it's a cynical attempt to create goodwill inside and outside the company using smart design, feigned transparency and the Web's self-propagating buzz.

My take? If all you see is corporate weaseldom, you're missing not only the big picture, but every pixel along the way.

So what's so remarkable? First, consider the premise of the thing, as seen in a still from Episode 10:

As news of Ford's disappointing financial performance hits Wall Street once again, the company decides to accelerate The Way Forward plan. Can Ford make the turnaround happen in time?

Okay, it's no secret that Ford is in the midst of not only a turnaround, but a life or death struggle whose outcome may portend the future viability of American-based auto manufacturing.

But when was the last time a company not only admitted—but
reminded people—that everything rides on the success of its turnaround effort? And when was the last time anyone like Ford not only provided a public, ongoing report on its progress, but invited and then actually published commentary (good and bad)? Particularly given the fact that so many eyes are on the company's every move: mainstream media, financial analysts, current employees, car buyers, automotive suppliers and their employees and customers, other American manufacturers and their employees, etc.? The aforementioned commentaries include posts from the general public as well as recent artices (hours old in some cases) about both the Website and Ford itself—including some items that are extremely critical.

From my vantage point as a brand communications strategist, I'm impressed by what shows up for me as a brilliant instance of a company actually living its brand premise: in this case, Ford actually making Bold Moves.

But is Ford's site so over-the-top self-conscious as to give away its true nature as the worst kind of corporate spin? My guess is, some people will see the (not so) new media buzz generating apparatus and Behind The Music production values and conclude there's not a shred of candor here.

That's a shame. Ford is taking a risk by communicating in a way that's rare for a company of its ilk and situation. Few would bat an eye if Nike or Apple or SoBe or some other company with a higher hipness quotient acted similarly in such a public and precarious situation. But we tend towards suspicion when the companies we think of as monolithic American manufacturers act like anything other than monolithic American manufacturers.

To be sure, this is not Bill Ford's father's company. But unlike Oldsmobile, which launched a catchy campaign and then did little to live the premise, Ford is at least making new moves in an effort to save itself.

And, dare I say it, I think they're pretty bold moves.

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