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Insider: Farley's Job One

Jim Farley has what some might say is the most difficult-yet possibly the most rewarding-job in the auto industry, if he can pull off a monumental task.

He's only been on the job leading Ford's marketing and communications group for four months, but Jim Farley admits that shortly after taking the job he went to visit a psychologist. No, it's not because he was second-guessing his decision. It was his neighbors' reaction that caused concern. While telling him it was "heart warming" that he was going to Ford after years at the juggernaut known as Toyota (he was responsible for establishing the Scion brand and ran Lexus prior to going to Ford), when he asked if any of them planned to buy a Ford, they all said "no," giving numerous excuses as to why a Ford product would not grace their driveways.

"One of the biggest issues for Ford in North America is favorable opinion," Farley says, noting that most people seem to have moved on from feeling skeptical about the brand to being apathetic, which brings me full-circle to Farley and psychologists. "I really wanted to understand the psychology of apathy, which is how do you get people to care about you when they are disengaged," he explains. This line of thinking has driven Farley since he set foot at Ford HQ in Dearborn and it's evolved into a new campaign that has a simple and easy tag line: "Drive one." Modeled after Nike's "Just do it," Farley says this campaign is about more than just primetime television advertising and billboards-"20% of the people that are watching primetime TV are either drunk or asleep," Farley jokes-it's about building a relationship with folks who would rather just forget about Ford altogether.

Not only does Farley have to get Ford back on the consideration list of many U.S. consumers, he's got to do it in an environment where people are finding it hard to finance their homes, much less their cars. Gasoline prices are hovering above $4 per gallon and folks are migrating to smaller vehicles, where profits are weak and Ford has one of the ugliest offerings on the market. Not to mention the fact that Ford will soon be launching two key products-the Ford Flex and F-150 pickup-both of which could fall prey to the rising fuel costs. Talk about daunting.

But don't tell Farley what he faces may be insurmountable. He proudly claims what makes Ford unique is its people, and he expects them to help turn the company's image around by word of mouth. Likewise, he is hopeful that the company's loyal customer base will help in this endeavor. "There are not a lot of people with Toyota tattoos, but there are a lot of people with Ford tattoos," he only partially jokes. But a problem could be that a large portion of this loyal group is committed to two products: the Mustang and the F-Series truck, and both of those products are having declining sales: the Mustang was down 26.7% through April 2008 and the F-Series by 15.5%.

There's little doubt that Farley is excited about Ford's future. His gusto for his new job is optimistic, yet somewhat naive. To think that Ford can turn its troubles around through one campaign is very gullible, even if that campaign has a long shelf life. What's going to turn things around is not a catchy slogan; it's product. This is where Farley has to flex his muscle, which one would guess is graced with that aforementioned tattoo. Bold styling, value and quality are the key ingredients needed and nothing short of a product metamorphosis will change the company's image.

But if Farley manages to rebuild Ford's image and awareness, not to mention profits and sales, he could find himself at the top of the Glass House, where he could install his own tattoo parlor. 

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