April 18, 2013
Billed as the sports car for people who dislike driving sports cars, the creators of the Ford Mustang opted for a slow and strategic approach when it came to promoting its latest concept. Rather than solely relying on an expensive advertising budget, Ford instead began focusing its efforts on a media relations campaign. Understanding the power and influence a public buzz could generate, the carmaker starting leaking information to the media almost a year prior to the vehicle’s launch.
Ford spared little expense in trying to create a media sensation, flying disk jockeys in to test drive and borrow white Mustangs for a week. Leading journalists were also invited to view the car and media kits were sent to thousands of print publications around the country. Using news releases to deliver details little by little, Ford successfully maneuvered public interest to reach fever-pitch levels. Publicity efforts culminated on April 17th, 1964, when the car’s official introduction took place at the same time as the opening of the World’s Fair. Visitors to the fair could ride the Disney-designed “Magic Skyway” while seated in a white Mustang convertible, giving them a chance to experience the vehicle firsthand. After the fair, journalists in attendance were given the opportunity to drive a Mustang from New York all the way to Detroit.
The resulting media response from these efforts was enormous. Ford’s Mustang appeared on the front cover of NewsWeek and Time within the same week, an unprecedented accomplishment. Originally, the car company had forecast annual sales to number around 100,000 vehicles. To Ford’s astonishment and thanks to the immense level of interest, 22,000 Mustangs were sold on the first day alone. By year’s end, sales reached an amazing 417,000 vehicles. To this day, Ford Mustang retains a powerful image with the general public, obtaining an almost iconic status and driving enthusiasts to join the roughly 250 Mustang clubs that exist around the world.
Sources: Ries, Al & Laura Ries,
The Fall of Advertising & Rise of PR. HarperBusiness, 2002.