In July 2010, Ford boldly defied convention by harnessing the power of social media, though it would later say the move was a natural response in a digital age.
While other companies fought for attention at auto shows -- usually on a single day -- Ford took matters into its own hands. The carmaker took to Facebook -- six months before the launch of the 2011 Ford Explorer -- to unveil its new vehicle.
What that allowed us to do was gain the attention of the media and public in a single day, uninterrupted, said Scott Monty, who heads Ford's social media team, in a phone interview Wednesday.
A year and a half later, Ford will try something unconventional again -- this time in preparation for the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, which begins Jan. 9. On that day, it will reveal the 2013 Ford Fusion hybrid sedan.
Leading up to that unveiling, Ford has partnered with Ogilvy Public Relations and tech company Moonbot Studios to create a reality-game app on smartphones and tablets. The app, available on devices like the Droid, iPhone and iPad, will allow customers to virtually test drive the redesigned Ford Fusion while simultaneously discovering more about the car ahead of its stage debut.
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It's a very significant opportunity in terms of buyers, Monty said. We're capturing their emotion and attention early on, rather than just showing up on Jan. 9 like we always do. This way, we add a bit of drama, suspense, and reason to come back every day.
The app operates like a video game. Each day, consumers drive a digitally camouflaged new Fusion on different tracks. At the end of the track, a Ford executive pops up with a 30-second video clip and gives more in-depth details about the Fusion.
Each week, there are different worlds unlocked to consumers. In all, 19 videos tell the story of how the new Fusion was conceptualized.
Monty said it's a way to drum up anticipation in a unique, gaming-like atmosphere that gains Ford a buzzworthy edge over its competitors.
The North American International Auto Show is absolutely chock full of news, he said. There are 40-plus auto makers vying for attention on one or two press days. ... Now, there's emotion and excitement leading up to that day.
Just more than two months ago, Ogilvy's Matt Binkowski approached old friend Brandon Oldenburg with the potential for a new project. Oldenburg is Moonbot's creative director and the driving force behind the building of the Ford Fusion app.
Oldenburg and Moonbot were behind another acclaimed app earlier in 2011 -- The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, an interactive book app. That won an App of the Year award in the United Kingdom.
Oldenburg said he applied new techniques and features this time around with the Fusion app, but the core remains the same.
We put storytelling first, he said in a phone interview Wednesday. We don't let the device drive what we're doing. You always want to think about the user, the story you need to communicate and how to stay on target with the brand and the message of whatever you're trying to tell.
The 2013 Ford Fusion is a fully redesigned version of the vehicle that has been produced since 2006.
Ford's bold move turned into success last time, as the company nearly doubled early expectations by receiving around 15,000 pre-orders for the 2011 Explorer. With trends shifting to slower anticipation and buildup leading up to the big event, Monty has a good feeling about this time, too.
The entire story creates curiosity, Monty said. Emotion that leads to wanting to see what's behind the curtain on Jan. 9.
Check out a video walkthrough of the app below: