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In an interview with the Wall Street Journal’s John Stoll, Ford’s president of global markets says he is going to turn the advertising world on its head.

Ford will laser-target us 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.

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. 

Late in the interview, this came up.

Farley told WSJ 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.”

Gee whiz, Jim. 

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. Well, better late than never.

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.

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