By Jack Ellis
May 17 2012
Ford’s blue oval logo is one of the most recognisable trademarks in the world. But a new advertising campaign from the Dearborn-based company seemingly lacks any explicit reference to the brand at all, with the iconic logo and product names absent altogether. Though counsel may feel uneasy that trademarks are not being used, ‘brandless’ marketing could have benefits if certain steps are taken.
Ford’s ‘Go Further’ campaign has been launched with an online video advert featuring cars – though we cannot be sure these are Fords (watching the ad on this YouTube channel might give you a hint, however!). Accepting that this ‘brandless’ approach to marketing seems counterintuitive, the company believes this is an opportunity to let its products “speak for themselves”.
Steve Baird, shareholder attorney at Winthrop & Weinstine and an author at the Duets Blog, believes that such a method is not necessarily a bad idea: “It creates some mystery and intrigue about who put out the ad, possibly generating more interest than a branded spot might enjoy. This is especially so for those who might normally ignore a Ford spot for whatever reason.” By using an anonymous approach, Ford may well be able to gain the attention of a potential new consumer base that would otherwise be inaccessible.
Chris McLeod, director of trademarks at Squire Sanders, suggests there may be another advantage to this brand-lite strategy. “Years ago, Nike started using their ‘swoosh’ emblem without the brand name for certain marketing activities. Perhaps it is more convenient for Ford’s global branding strategy to not rely on the word element.”
The ad is not wholly branding-free. Rather, the video advert itself is part of a two-step process linking the viewer back to the brand. The end of the ad invites those watching to visit an unbranded website. Although viewers may not be able to identify the Ford brand purely on the designs of the vehicles featured in the ad, a visit to the suggested website instantly makes the connection clear. Baird believes that this approach gives consumers a mystery to solve that allows them to interact with, and learn more about, the brand. “Viewers need to somehow associate the ad with the brand, otherwise the expenditures seem unjustified. But as this example demonstrates, creating an unbranded website address that invites viewers to solve the mystery as to who is behind the ad can provide that link.”
However, the campaign is in its infancy and it remains to be seen how people will respond. “Visitors to the website may appreciate the mystery or they may become frustrated by it – their reaction will have an impact on the Ford brand,” says Baird.
McLeod cautions that this risky approach may only be effective for brands that already have enough fame to fall back on. “Ford may believe that they are well-known enough to not use the house brand. But if your brand is new on the scene or is struggling for attention, you need to promote it and continually reinforce it in order to imprint it on the mind of the public.” But as McLeod explains, any brand can create a mystery – and the intrigue and interactivity that brings can draw in a new section of consumers. “A teaser campaign like Ford’s could work for any brand if done properly,” he says. “Consumers will be tempted to go beyond the unbadged campaign to find out more.”
Ford’s blue oval trademark is one of the most recognised in the world and, as a result, was worth enough for Ford to use as collateral for a restructuring loan. The fact that the logo is so valuable to the brand makes it even more interesting that Ford should choose to run a marketing campaign without it. But trademark securitisation is for another day – stay tuned as WTR will consider this in the coming days…
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