DETROIT Jim Farley led Ford Motor Co's (F.N) first aggressive push into social media with the launch of the Fiesta subcompact in the U.S. three years ago. But Ford's top marketing executive says the automaker has only just reached the big leagues online.
The launch of the 2013 Fusion sedan represents a more extensive use of Twitter, Facebook (FB.O) and YouTube (GOOG.O) by the No. 2 U.S. automaker to advertise its models than previous efforts.
In 2009, Ford's campaign for its Fiesta small car, the "Fiesta Movement," was largely confined to social media sites and relied heavily on potential customers to upload videos and post online messages about their cars.
By contrast, the campaign for the Fusion, one of the most popular U.S. family sedans, will be scripted by seven comedy writers and features 'American Idol' host and red-carpet fixture Ryan Seacrest. The videos will run on TV, radio and online.
"The 'Fiesta Movement' was awesome, but the scale was totally different," Farley said in an interview.
"That's like the Toledo Mud Hens," he said, referring to the Detroit Tigers' minor league baseball team. "We're talking about the Yankees here."
The redesigned Fusion, which will be on sale in the fall, is one of Ford's most crucial vehicle launches in recent years, and provides a chance for the company to strengthen its place in the bread-and-butter midsize sedan segment.
With the Fusion, Ford takes aim at the two dominant models in the midsize segment, Toyota Motor Corp's (7203.T) Camry and Honda Motor Co's (7267.T) Accord.
In 2009, Ford spent $5 million on the Fiesta promotional campaign. The kind of recognition that followed would have cost $100 million through more traditional means, Farley said in an investor presentation last November.
Ford declined to say how much it is spending on the Fusion social media campaign, called "Random Acts of Fusion," which also features actors Joel McHale and Kate Micucci.
In the Fusion campaign, the three celebrities must dole out 100 Fusion sedans, as the wide-eyed Micucci attempts to referee a faux feud between Seacrest and McHale, a comedian who has made a career out of poking fun at Seacrest.
In one Ford spot, McHale deadpans that Seacrest's teeth are so perfect that "they make pearls commit suicide."
Farley said the celebrities were chosen on the strength of their online popularity. Collectively, the three have more than 10 million followers on Twitter, with Seacrest accounting for more than 7.3 million. This dwarfs the 141,000 that track Ford's main Twitter account. According to Klout, a company that uses Twitter and Facebook to measure influence online, Seacrest, McHale and Micucci are in the 95th percentile of influence.
"All three of them were important because they already have very large social grasps," Farley said. "We're not starting from scratch."
(Reporting By Deepa Seetharaman; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)