After extensive market research, Ford concluded that there were a substantial number of well-off French professionals who dreamed of simpler lives outside the big cities. This group, the data showed, was also more open to non-French car brands.
"They are reaching a life stage where they are looking for something different," said Paul Flanagan, Ford's managing director for France. "We wanted to tap into that."
More from the New York Times:
Ford Edge SUV gets first big overhaul, now bigger, sleeker
Ford's profits jump 44%, soaring past forecasts
A Ford recall for engines that might not turn off
The company sees Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy as a believable embodiment of the marketing conceit, because she has already reinvented herself multiple times. She began working as a model while a teenager, pursued a career as a singer and songwriter, and then became the nation's first lady after her marriage to Mr. Sarkozy in 2008, a role in which she served as poised counterpart to her husband, who is considered more of a loose cannon.
Commercial work is nothing new for Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy, who also serves as the face of Bulgari, the jewelry maker. Still, no French politician can afford to be seen in a foreign-made car, and her work with Ford has the potential to generate criticism that she is being unpatriotic. Ford builds transmissions at two sites in France, but its main European vehicle assembly plants are in Germany and Spain.
Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy's husband remains active in politics as leader of the Republicans, a French center-right party, and is said to be planning a run for president in 2017.
Ford would not say how much Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy was paid to appear in the video, which was directed by Dominique Farrugia, a well-known comedian and director. The video was created by the Paris office of Blue Hive, a unit of the advertising conglomerate WPP. And Ford is not buying television time to broadcast the video, hoping instead that it will go viral on the Internet.
Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy contributed some of her own ideas to the script, according to Ford, including a scene in which she berates one of her players for wearing a pair of large headphones while she is talking. "What do you think you're doing, parking airplanes?" she yells in his ear.
Ford is not relying solely on Ms. Bruni-Sarkozy to propel its quest for more French buyers. The campaign coincides with the introduction of numerous new and refreshed models, including an update of the compact EcoSport S.U.V. due this year. Ford expects the EcoSport to do well in France because of the growing popularity of S.U.V.s, as well as a French preference for small cars.
The new cars that Ford is introducing in Europe are aimed at rural and suburban drivers, who are the backbone of the French car market. City residents are an increasingly tough sell because of the growth of car-sharing services and the cost and hassle of parking.
Agnès Panquiault, a Parisian who works for a Canadian technology company, said she would probably not replace her aging Peugeot minivan when it wears out. "During weekdays, I only use it to drop off my children at school," Ms. Panquiault said. "These days, having a car in Paris is a luxury."
Ford has upgraded its French dealer network, and it hopes to generate positive publicity by competing next year, for the first time since 1969, in the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the legendary endurance race. Even with help from the former first lady, though, Ford executives expect that building market share in France will take years.
Mr. Flanagan, the head of Ford in France, said, "Carla's video is very much one stage of the journey."