Will crime pay off for Ford?

So what's the story?
A stylish, attractive brunette lustily eyes the male store clerk, as she pays for her purchases in a hip boutique.

So what’s the story?

A stylish, attractive brunette lustily eyes the male store clerk, as she pays for her purchases in a hip boutique. The poor schlep then carries her bags to her sleek, silver Ford Focus ZX5 hatchback. As he arranges the merchandise in her trunk, the woman kicks him in, slams the door, and then prepares to drive off, with both her new clothes and her handsome captive.

This spot first aired briefly in September, because The Ford Motor Company of Canada ‘wanted to see what happened,’ says Al McCormick, car group brand manager at the Oakville, Ont.-based auto manufacturer. It resurfaced late last month and continues to run.

What did happen?

So far, about 10 complaints have trickled in over the ad, produced by Montreal shop Saint-Jacques Vallées Young & Rubicam, with some viewers suggesting Ford is advocating abduction. ‘The tone we’re getting is that with all the violence on TV these days, we shouldn’t be showing violence in commercials,’ says McCormick. ‘But it’s not like the guy is struggling to get out of the car. This is just fun.’

McCormick explains that the star of the spot is an ‘assertive woman, who is confident and knows what she wants.’ Not only that, he adds, ‘she has a more than willing partner,’ which is evident because the prisoner doesn’t struggle to get out of the hatchback.

‘The demographic is under 30, and we’re using humour as a neat ploy to grab their attention,’ says McCormick, who insists that many consumers have reacted positively to the work, especially in focus groups where some women were amused because they had been tempted to commit similar acts in the past. (I myself once tried to take home the cutie who served me coffee at Starbucks, but didn’t have the strength to hoist him over my shoulder.) And guys also gave their thumbs-up in research, as ‘many had wished they’d been abducted.’

Say what?

Sure, it’s all fun and games until the machete comes out. According to Alexandre Gadoua, copywriter at SVY&R, the aim was to position the car as having attitude and, of course, to highlight its roominess, because let’s face it, you couldn’t fit a grown man into the trunk of a Volkswagen Beetle. ‘This is how we tied the roominess factor with the urban setting,’ he explains. ‘And we had to make sure a European flavour was there.’

Another goal, adds art director Francois Vaillancourt was to differentiate the ZX5 from the other Focus models, like the sedan and station wagon. (Just think of how many unsuspecting guys you could force into one of those!) ‘We had to make it more distinctive, we had to create a niche for this particular car, that targets a younger market.’

And how did Ford handle the complaints?

They were taken seriously, and Ford asked its agency to draft a response, which politely informed angry consumers that they were ‘misinterpreting the humour, that it wasn’t meant to be an aggressive or a kidnapping situation,’ explains Pierre Pelland, account executive at SVY&R, who won’t say whether or not the agency would ever create similar work where the gender roles were reversed. ‘It would depend on the mandate or what the brief would be. If that would be the case, it would have to be done in a tasteful and cautious way so as not to offend anybody.’ As if.