Behind the Wheel with Phil Lebeau

Ford Revving Up Fiesta Buzz Online

2011 Ford Fiesta

The formula for building momentum and excitement about a new car or truck is pretty well known. The automaker usually releases pictures or clips of a new car to one of the auto enthusiast web sites. Or they'll create a web site for the new vehicle and look for "hand raisers" - people interested in learning more about the new model. Either way, we all know the game and rarely is there a model that breaks through the on-line clutter to create "major" buzz. With that in mind, Ford's latest attempt at generating interest in its new car, the Fiesta, is an interesting experiment in whether word of mouth testimonials will make the average person check out a new car.

The Fiesta is a compact car that has been a huge hit in Europe and has been the focal point of Ford's strategy to crank out smaller, more fuel efficient models for customers in the US. People in the auto industry, or those who have driven a Fiesta in Europe, have long known the pint-size car could be a big winner for Ford. But in a crowded market with strong competitors in the compact segment, Ford knows it will still have to work to make the Fiesta a big seller.

So it's taking its message to the streets. More specifically, having 100 regular people take their message to the streets.

These "Fiesta Agents" include people like Derek "Pretty Boy" Dow from Chicago. Dow is a young, aspiring filmmaker who has been driving, and chronicling his experiences with the Fiesta since last spring. Ford provided Dow and the other agents with a Fiesta and paid for their gas as they went on various "missions" with their cars. There were no restrictions on what the agents could write or say on line about driving the Fiesta. In Derek's case, the Fiesta has been the setting for a series of vignettes he's posted on YouTube.

For Ford, the program has exceeded expectations. It claims recognition of the Fiesta among the general public is 38%, as great as it is for the Edge. It believes there have been 100 million "engagements" on line where people have seen, read, learned more about the Fiesta. In short, Ford believes putting its compact car in the hands of people who will talk it up on line is creating buzz for the Fiesta. Skeptics will say you can't really measure buzz, and of course these Fiesta agents will talk up a car they are essentially driving for free.

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Derek Dow knows there are skeptics, but he also thinks Fiesta is the kind of car that will help Ford win over young buyers. Derek says, "When they (younger drivers) start to appreciate the gas mileage, when they start to get in the car and really see how it rides and how good it is it will change their minds."

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