Ford Expands Programmatic Video As New TV Campaign Launches

Erica BigleyLast week, Ford Motors kicked off its latest long-term ad campaign, dubbed “And Not Or,” with a theme that could also apply to its digital strategy. The spots, which began running on TV and have heavy online video components, touch on concepts that people expect to naturally go together; consumers are asked to choose between a “bed or breakfast” and “sweet or sour chicken.”

In much the same way, Ford’s Digital Media Manager Erica Bigley told AdExchanger the automaker’s expanded programmatic focus, particularly around video, goes hand-in-hand with its traditional, splashy TV campaigns.

AdExchanger: How has Ford’s approach to programmatic ad buys evolved?

ERICA BIGLEY: Two years ago, we moved away from really an [Original Equipment Manufacturer]-centric model of measurement to look at a consumer-focused model, because we understand that consumers are going to consume content all across the web, on broadcasts and through digital print properties, and they’re not always going to end up back on That really made us understand the value in buying audience segments. Obviously, in the past, if you ran with networks you were beholden to that network to tell you exactly what you were buying. Now, as part of media buys and partner relationships, we can clearly understand who we’re talking to and really make digital a one-to-one communication.

Does being an automaker, as opposed to another ad category, make it easier to use programmatic and specific audience segments as a strategy?

We’re lucky because it’s not like we’re selling a package of toothpaste. When you go and market for an automotive vehicle product, you start researching and really try to understand what you’re going to do, so you send very clear digital signals. We have so much robust data that we’re sitting on. It’s taken the past two years of constantly evolving how we’re looking at that and how we’re using it. Obviously, we started programmatic buying first in the display section of our buys. Just recently, we started moving into video because we really saw the way that consumers are viewing video – again, putting it in the correct data set’s hands, and making sure that it’s contextually relevant – is far more important.

So is it easier from a programmatic standpoint to be an auto marketer as opposed to a packaged goods marketer selling toothpaste?

No, I don’t necessarily think it’s easier. Toothpaste is a low-priced item; the consumer may vary every so often. But if a consumer is in-market to purchase a vehicle, [overcoming loyalty to another brand] is a huge hurdle. That’s not just trying us out for two dollars. This is trying us out for six years while you’re going to drive this vehicle.

It’s all about the way we message to this consumer, how we close the perception gap about how fuel-efficient we really are compared to what the average consumer thinks, how we show the technology and features. It’s hard for us. Then again, we have to make sure we’re talking the tone of the consumer, not just the way that we think the consumer should be spoken to.

Is it hard to come by “premium” online video inventory? 

To some extent. Let’s say you’re an advertiser and you’re going to buy around the Grammys or the Oscars or some similar tent-pole event. Buying contextually relevant inventory around those events can be hard.

But if you’re launching a vehicle focused on females 25 to 34, there are a lot of really strong female sites that you can partner with. You come into that inventory hurdle.

Data has always been a big part of marketing to “auto intenders,” those people who are in-market for a car. How has the use of data evolved since you began employing programmatic buys into your digital strategy? 

In most cases we’ll buy multiple data sets and run them through programmatic buying, so we can tell which one performs better than the other one. That’s not to say that one data set’s better than the other, but we may have thought our target was women 18 to 34 [when] actually it looks like men are responding to us more. It’s really helped in that case.

Then you can go deeper. Say Message A didn’t work against that data set, but Message B worked better, so obviously this consumer is far more interested in “fuel-efficiency messaging” over “quality messaging.” That makes a tremendous difference when you can granularly target your message that way.

How do you view the challenges in mobile, particularly since it’s a cookieless environment?

It’s exciting and challenging in the same breath. No longer can you think of mobile as a second screen. It’s predominantly the consumer’s first screen. It’s the first thing that they wake up to in the morning. We just read a stat that’s kind of disturbing. You touch your phone over 100 times a day. We know that we have to be there.

It’s making us look outside of standard IAB units and at the targeting possibilities. Mobile targeting is new, but there are some things we could potentially do on geotargeting when we have a retail event.

Are there advances you’re seeking from agencies or publishers that would make programmatic ad buys more attractive?

Moving forward with viewability is a huge area that we’re trying to factor in. Cross-platform metrics are another important area we’re looking to. Eventually, we want to be able to directly compare how our broadcast is performing to how our online video is performing. That’s going to help when we start to segment out our video from a brand perspective, compared to what we do from a retail perspective.   

As you know, there’s no IAB standard [for viewability] right now. We’re testing multiple partners.  We are being very open with those partners on what works, what doesn’t work… It’s not a process that we have in place across the board yet.

Carmakers have a wide range of ad buys, from national campaigns down to regional ones and local dealership advertising. Does programmatic cover all those needs? 

Definitely. From a national perspective, it’s about building favorable opinion and awareness of the brand. When we start getting into that lower funnel, obviously we want to ensure we are giving our dealers everything they need.

Programmatic has allowed us to clearly define our swimming lanes – who’s going to buy what, to ensure that we are not reaching one consumer 75 times and then missing out on the key consumer we should have been speaking to. We’ve always had great partnerships with our dealers, but [programmatic’s] really allowed us to go to market together and make our marketing dollars even stronger.

What’s your take on native ads?

Let’s put it in the context of someone shopping for a vehicle and they’re on an endemic site. They’re comparing your vehicle against your competitor’s vehicle. You’re not going to want to drive them away from that third-party site to bring them back to your site, where they’re not going to believe that that content is relevant to them.

When we work with our larger partners, we ensure that we are putting the appropriate content on their pages, that we’re making ad units that don’t look like a standard 300×250 – you could view a built-in price, you could search inventory, you could do everything within that ad unit. You can watch videos. To us, that’s just as important as coming to our site. You’re eventually going to come to our site, but your first touch point with our brand shouldn’t be to take you away from your desktop experience.

Has programmatic changed Ford’s relationship with its ad agencies and media buyers?

We don’t go through an agency and a trading desk. We built our Ford proprietary system, so we’re different than some of our competitors in that sense. Our agency – WPP’s Team Detroit – manages it and runs it for us. But the way that Ford has structured our agency relationship, it is a true, close partnership. Ford has a very nimble team, and without our agency we really couldn’t get a lot accomplished. It’s not just a media agency. It’s media, creative, account strategy all under one roof, right across the street from us, working hand in hand.

That’s why we don’t have a standalone trading desk. Our programmatic buying is done through our agency; we know exactly what’s going on.

How much of Ford’s online ad spending is done through programmatic channels? And will you increase that amount in the near term? 

Here’s what I’ll say. We will continue to invest in programmatic buying until the point of diminishing returns. There’s always going to be a place for contextually relevant content hubs and outside-the-box, nonstandard IAB units. At the end of the day, our media mix will deliver upon our goals and objectives.

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