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Ford gambles ahead of 2021 Bronco debut by going dark on Facebook, social media ads

Phoebe Wall Howard, Detroit Free Press

After investing more than $1 billion in the all-new Ford Bronco, the automaker confirmed plans to keep its commitment to not buy social media advertising despite learning its key competitor is planning to ramp up its own presence.

"What we paused was paid social advertising but we will still have a huge impact with organic social media interest," Mark Truby, chief communications officer, said Saturday. "Just the built up, pent-up interest in Bronco is like nothing we’ve ever seen before. We’re just going to reach a huge audience – Super Bowl-like numbers."

The 2021 Bronco reveal event is scheduled for 8 p.m. Monday, introducing two-door and four-door Bronco models as well as a smaller Bronco Sport SUV. Ford executives have said the company is setting its sights on Jeep customers, specifically Wrangler.

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"Between our Ford social channels and Disney – with ABC, ESPN and NatGeo – this will be unlike any product launch we have ever done. NatGeo alone has 120 million followers on Instagram," Truby said.

Meanwhile, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which owns the Jeep brand, told the Free Press, part of the USA TODAY Network, "The Jeep brand will be active on its social media channels over the next two weeks."

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Ford Bronco plans to battle Jeep Wrangler in the off-road category of rugged vehicles. This image provides silhouette images of the 2-door and 4-door Bronco and Bronco Sport.

When asked if Jeep plans a direct challenge to Ford Bronco, an FCA spokesperson said, "We have no further comment."

So in coming days, when consumers go onto social media and search for information about the Ford Bronco, Jeep Wrangler ads may pop up. Also, social media popped Saturday with images of what may be a new HEMI V-8 Wrangler.

Ford announced June 29, four days after the reveal of its 2021 Ford F-150, that the company would join the social media "pause" as global companies challenge the social media giant Facebook to take responsibility for its content.

Ford also expanded its 30-day hiatus to include YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

"We made the decision to pause our social media advertising for good reason. Obviously we knew this was the same time frame as some really important launches but I think we found a creative way to achieve the same impact," Truby said, noting he doesn't think the launch will be jeopardized by this decision.

Ford will unveil the all-new SUV family across Disney’s broadcast, cable, digital and streaming properties, including three custom 3-minute films during the first commercial break on the hour. Jimmy Chin, an Oscar-winning film director, cinematographer and professional climber, is collaborating with Disney on the project.

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Could this be a mistake?

The Ford media plan very simply "gives Jeep a window to market to that audience without having to 'shout' amongst the noise," said Robert Davidman, a partner at The Fearless Agency on Madison Avenue in New York.

Robert Davidman, a partner at The Fearless Agency on Madison Avenue in New York, is pictured here in 2018. He says companies must go to where consumers spend time.

"As a brand, you need to go where the audience is and not expect them to just come to you. Although social is getting some flack, I honestly don’t see consumers backing away from it," he said. "So as a brand, if you are looking to communicate with potential customers, pulling out of all social media is a mistake in my opinion."

Visionary, not 'misguided'

Others praised Ford for being in sync with the times.

Marcus Collins, a Detroit native and professor at the University of Michigan in the Ross School of Business, has established a national reputation for expertise in digital advertising, social marketing and brand strategy. He said the Ford approach to social media is a brilliant play that wins the long game.

"The fact that Ford has said, ‘We’re pulling our dollars from Facebook because of what we think is right and wrong,’ knowing that a new product is going to release, says a lot about the company’s conviction," Collins said. "In the face of a threat, you stand on what you believe."

Marcus Collins, a professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, is an expert in digital advertising, social marketing, and brand strategy. He says companies must take a stand on social issues to connect with consumers in 2020. This photo was taken in 2018.

Advertisers who show conviction when it’s convenient, that’s not conviction at all, he said. And consumers remember these times. While Nike saw an initial backlash to its ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, who famously took a knee on the football field to make a statement about civil rights, Nike sales later surged.

"Considering the world we live in, brands aren’t just products we buy," Collins said. "Brands mean something; when we wear them, use them, drive them. The car we drive says something about who I am because of what the brand stands for."

Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick appears in a Nike ad campaign in September 2018.

Our lives are so public in a social networking platform world now, he said.

"Research shows that people care more about having an emotional connection with brands than the value propositions of the branded product itself," Collins said. "People wear Beats headphones because they’re an artifact of cool, not because they’re the best product. It’s why people drive a Ford F-150 versus Chevy Silverado. You’re an F-150 guy or a Chevy guy."

If brands want relationships with their consumers, these discussions are essential, he said. 

"The idea that a brand shouldn’t have a stand on social issues is misguided," Collins said. "If it were the case, then brands shouldn’t try to have a relationship with people at all. If the idea is to build consumer relationships so they buy, then we have to engage on a human level." 

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard at 313-222-6512 or phoward@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: 2021 Ford Bronco debut will be unlike others with Facebook ad boycott