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In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Ford’s president of global markets said that he is going to turn the advertising world on its head. Ford will laser-target potential buyers with very specific ads online, using algorithms that mine social media and online searches.

Ford’s Jim Farley said two things are true, both of which have them cringing in the halls over at WPP, a big ad agency that now calls itself “A global leader in the creative transformation industry

One is that development and placement of digital ads can be done better by machines and software than by people. The other is that the new ad work will not be given to the big traditional agencies because long-time makers of TV and print ads don’t have the skills needed to sell through social media.

Farley said they went to Facebook, whose software serves up ads to specific audiences. Here’s the example he gave, showing how precisely a company can target potential customers, or at least potential customers who have Facebook accounts:

“Please show a Ford Expedition ad to someone who lives in Birmingham, Mich., who has family sports in their news feed, has a picture of a GMC Yukon or Chevy Tahoe in their pictures, and has googled new SUVs in the last week.”

Late in the interview, this came up

Farley told the Wall Street Journal he had one of the most fascinating days of his career when his leadership team rode around in vehicles with actual customers. “They don’t know how our navigation system works, they have three phones attached to the dashboard, they’re driving with their knees, he said, adding that when they saw real people in real life, “It was a huge ‘aha’ moment for us.” Now that sounds really simple, but it was one of the most fascinating days I’ve had in the auto industry.”

Gee whiz, Jim

It is hard for me to imagine that seeing real people in real life is an ‘aha’ moment for the head of a $44 billion company. The importance of learning from customers has long been known by many and Farley just learned it. Farley said this ‘aha’ moment convinced him Ford needs deeper thought into how customers actually use products. “It’s just the process of being curious about the right things and getting out of Detroit.”

It’s not just getting out of Detroit, Jim

What is far more important is getting away from marketers whose interest is in influencing people, and spending more time with researchers whose interest is in understanding people. It’s also getting away from engineers who focus on things, and spending more time with researchers who are interested in understanding how people use things. 

Perhaps your research people are as hidebound as your ad agencies and should be up for review, too, Jim.

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