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Kudos for the Ford Flex

Last month I wrote a piece for Advertising Age about what the auto industry could learn from the iPhone’s success. It sparked healthy a response, becoming one of the magazine’s top e-mailed articles that week and prompting many readers to post their opinion on, many agreeing, some not.

The best “response” to date is the way Ford is launching its new Flex – a truly segment-busting car (minivan? cross-over?). With the Flex, Ford is bringing to bear many of the strategies outlined in the article. (PS: I harbor no illusion that my opinions had any influence. Having worked extensively in the car business, I know Ford’s strategies were likely in place 18 months ago.)

First and foremost, Ford showed courage in green-lighting a love it or hate it design. The all too common decision is to choose safe designs that are mildly appealing to as many customers as possible (with the notable exception of the Chrysler 300). Ford chose instead to turn heads and be passionately appealing to a select group of customers.

And speaking of design, Ford enlisted a fashion designer, Anthony Prozzi, to imbue the car’s interior with non-automotive design cues.

Ford is generating buzz and demand by orchestrating a slow roll-out in major markets such as Atlanta, Miami, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles before broadening to a full national launch. This is so much smarter than the tendency to flood dealer lots with too many cars which then require buzz-killing incentives to bring down the inventory. (I can sense the fingerprints of my former Toyota client, Jim Farley, who is now CMO for Ford Motor. The man knows a thing or two about marketing.)

Great product. Smart marketing. Let’s hope it can overcome the bad timing of launching in the current economy.