Ford takes Escape out of this world

Trees, rocks, streams....

Trees, rocks, streams.

In the world of sport utility vehicles, there’s a well-established recipe for advertising, and it clearly dictates that every TV spot, billboard or print ad must, without exception, contain all of the above.

True, a lot of the folks who purchase these gas-guzzlers may never take them anyplace more rugged than the local Starbucks. But in their dreams, they’re bold adventurers – and when they chance upon an SUV commercial, they want to see that puppy fording rivers and lurching over boulders. Or so the thinking goes, anyway.

When the Ford Escape brand team set about developing a campaign for their vehicle back in the fall, they were determined to get as far away from the traditional clichés of the

category as they possibly could. Which is how they ended up on the moon.

Earth’s dusty grey satellite provides the setting for a new 30-second brand spot, which broke nationally on Boxing Day. (Well, actually, it’s a gravel pit near Acton, Ont. But you’d be surprised just how closely the place resembles the surface of the moon – which, come to think of it, is probably not the sort of thing the local tourist bureau is keen to publicize.)

The Escape campaign is the latest effort to be launched under the ‘No Boundaries’ banner – a theme line encompassing the entire range of Ford SUVs (which also includes the Explorer, Expedition, Excursion and Sport Trac nameplates).

Compact and sporty, the Escape is targeted to consumers who are ‘young at heart,’ says Norm Melamed, executive vice-president, managing director of Toronto-based Young & Rubicam, agency of record for Ford Motor Company of Canada. ‘The average age of the buyer is probably in their 40s, but they’re people who think like they’re in their late 20s or early 30s. And a key character trait is that they tend to be optimistic – they see unlimited opportunities.’

For this kind of buyer, the appeal of an SUV like the Escape is the inherent promise of freedom. But how do you communicate that in a way that will differentiate the vehicle from its competitors – all of whom play on more or less the same idea?

Avoiding the standard imagery of SUV advertising was deemed key, Melamed says. ‘But you can’t show the car on pavement, either, because that’s not aspirational. The consumer insists upon seeing the vehicle in a rugged environment that shows its capability… So we challenged the creative guys to come up with a different way of doing that. And they came up with the moon.’

The spot is currently airing in prime time on all of the conventional networks, as well as specialty channels such as TSN, OLN, Discovery Channel and Life Network. It opens with a shot of a space shuttle parked on the lunar surface, then cuts to a trio of space-suited astronauts taking their Escape for a joyride, accompanied by a brassy rendition of ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ (Because the Escape target skews female, the creatives made a point of putting a woman in the driver’s seat.) The vehicle bumps over the ashy dunes, traverses a massive crater, and finally parks so that the crew can admire a view of the earth rising above the horizon.

Melamed says the development of the spot prompted the sort of discussions normally reserved for a university astrophysics seminar. Just how would a compact SUV perform on the moon, anyway? (In the end, they decided to aim for a sense of effortless handling, but to keep the vehicle grounded rather than show it bouncing around in the low-gravity environment.)

A 60-second version of the spot is now breaking in cinemas. A teaser campaign also appeared in outdoor before Christmas. The billboards displayed the image of a moonscape, and the Web address www.noboundaries.ca. Featured on the Internet site is a virtual showroom for the Escape, a test-drive offer and a contest to win a Ford SUV. Y&R also developed a magazine ad that echoes the theme of the TV spot, showing a couple taking their Escape on a lunar excursion.

Melamed says pre-launch research confirmed that the creative approach would resonate with the target audience. But the brand team also knew that a lot would depend on the strength of the production values.

‘It was a challenge, because if we did it wrong it would have looked really cheesy,’ he says. ‘It could have been a disaster.’

Credits:

Client: Ford Motor Company of Canada

Agency: Young & Rubicam

Group Account Director: Sarah Chisholm

Account Director: Jen Jackson

Account Supervisor: Lindsay Rennie

Creative Directors: John Farquhar, David Adams

Art Director: Bill Newbery

Copywriter: Simon Creet

Producer: Diane Kirk

Media: Television, cinema, magazine, outdoor, internet

Start Date: December 26

We’re always on the lookout for great new campaigns to feature in this column. If you’ve got a suggestion, please contact David Todd at dtodd@brunico.com