Expanding a Legacy Brand’s Reach: How Ford Is Repositioning The New Mustang

For its 50th anniversary, the Mustang is returning with a new look, a global reach and a high-profile Hollywood presence. Here, we detail the Chinese Theatre cement stunt unveiling and a preview of touchpoints to come.

Last week Ford unveiled its 2015 Mustang with a big bang–events in Sydney, Shanghai, Barcelona, New York, Los Angeles, and Dearborn, Michigan. “We wanted to make a statement about the global nature of the Mustang but still be true to America,” says Joseph Hinrichs, president of the Americas for the Ford Motor Company. Ford sees the car as a beacon for its overall brand–an emotional draw for people who love the car as well as for those who might be attracted by Mustang luster but who might opt for another model.


That sentiment drove the company’s decision to go global with the next Mustang, and to make sure its kickoff delivered on that message.

For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the Mustang will be available to the average consumer in markets around the world–all over Europe and in China and Australia–places where Mustang fans are legion but where previously only specialty-auto collectors could get a hold of one. In England and Australia, for instance, there have never before been right-hand wheel models.

As perhaps the most popular automobile on Facebook (with 5.6 million likes), the Mustang is well-positioned to leverage its online presence. In fact, according to the company, 55% of those likes come from Mustang lovers overseas, where Mustang enthusiast clubs comprise a thriving fan base. With that depth of passion and international interest, Ford’s task was to expand its reach by embracing its current fans and working to make its influence even bigger. Here, how they’re doing it.



Launched in 1964 (with the ’65 model), the Mustang, for some, became perhaps as much a symbol of America as apple pie and barbecues. The car was cast as synonymous with an American spirit of freedom, independence and rebellion, an image that was forged in large part by Hollywood. The year it was introduced, the Mustang made a well-timed appearance in U.S.-set scenes of the James Bond movie Goldfinger.

In the nearly 50 years since, Mustangs have been in literally thousands of movies, including Smokey and the Bandit, Back to the Future, Gone in Sixty Seconds and I Am Legend. On TV, no less a pop-culture figure than Farrah Fawcett drove a Mustang on Charlie’s Angels. More recently, J.J. Abrams’ short-lived Alcatraz recreated Steve McQueen’s chase in 1968’s Bullitt.

One challenge of this legacy is that the Mustang can feel like too much of a throwback to an earlier time (Farrah Fawcett’s poster isn’t gracing too many bedroom walls these days). One way to address that: Update it. The 2015 Mustang will make its first big-screen appearance in Need for Speed, the movie version of the racing videogames, opening March 14, 2014 (check out the trailer here), starring Aaron Paul and Dominic Cooper. The movie marks one of a series of steps that began with the recent unveiling in front of the TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Graumann’s Chinese) on Hollywood Boulevard, where the 2015 Mustang put its imprint in the cement alongside the handprints of Hollywood stars.


Another potential challenge: The Mustang’s muscle car image could turn off a segment of the buying public. But Hinrichs sees that as a plus. The company views the Mustang as above demographics and geographies, appealing to a lot of people.

The new Mustang will appear in other movies yet to be announced and news is forthcoming about the Mustang’s presence in the Need for Speed video game.


Ford has a long history of fan engagement online. Starting with a consistent presence on American Idol and continuing with various multi-platform content initiatives, the company has been active in social-media branding.


In the two weeks prior to the Dec. 5 debut, Ford teamed up with Facebook and Instagram to leverage its fans, something the automaker has been doing for a while. Mustang clubs, with their homecomings and get-togethers, have been happening for years. Social media has only dialed that up, allowing enthusiasts to connect to each other from around the world.

Instagram allows them to take that a step further, by visualizing those stories. It also allows Ford to connect to a whole new potential audience–the next generation. The company invited consumers to share stories of inspiration expressed through photos, on Facebook and Instagram, using the hashtag #MustangInspires. (The results are being collected here.)

Instagram teamed Ford with 15 of its heavy influencers, each of whom then turned out a 15-second video inspired by those photos. It’s an early example of Instagram’s nascent potential for marketing partnerships.


Beyond that, Ford deployed its social media team to take to screens in real time and engage in conversations happening among devotees. The social media team could thank people who expressed excitement about the unveiling, even respond in real time when people had questions, such as, What is the horsepower? What does the dashboard look like? They could even shoot an Instagram video addressing those questions. This small, core team is part of the company’s broader communications effort and was linked to be able to set up live chats with engineers and designers to keep the event interactive and ongoing.


It’s an event that was a year in the making. In late 2012, Ford went to its various marketing, PR and social media agencies for input on how the company should introduce the 2015 vehicle. Ideas included recreating the 1966 Mustang’s launch atop the Empire State Building–an event at which the car was placed in an elevator and parked on the observation deck of the then-tallest building in the world and photographed by news helicopters.

Redoing that was deemed anti-climactic. Instead they went about securing the sidewalk in front of the world-famous Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Mustang would leave its tire print on the cement where celebrities regularly lay their hands.


But that’s easier said than done.

Jose Resendiz is a self-described cement artist who is contracted by the Chinese to mix the cement for all of the theater’s celebrity handprint events. Resendiz worked on the Mustang project for a couple of months, he tells Co.Create, formulating a recipe for concrete, made with just the right amount of water. He also engineered the steel frame in just the right way to get the slump–that’s concrete talk for density–just right. “When they told me they wanted to roll a vehicle over it, I thought, OK, we’ll just roll a tire through,” said Resendiz. “But they said, No, we’re going to roll the vehicle through it. I laughed.”

The 4’ by 8’ slab of concrete had to handle a vehicle rolling over it without sinking. It then needed to be shipped to Dearborn, MI, where the slab will go on permanent display in the Ford offices.


Because this was a top-secret campaign, Resendiz didn’t even know it was for the Mustang–he didn’t even know which car company was doing this–until a week before, when he had the opportunity for a test run with a real Mustang. The building contractor landed the part-time Hollywood Boulevard gig when, in a very Los Angeles turn of events, he happened to be attending a movie premiere at the theater four or five years ago and he overheard a discussion about needing a new concrete consultant. “I raised my hand, and now I get to mix the slabs every time a celebrity comes by.” And now the occasional car.

There were unveilings in five other cities, each unique to that place. The New York City event happened live on Good Morning America, where the company’s CEO Alan Mullaly was on hand to discuss the history of the pony car. He later went on The Colbert Report. The Barcelona event was primarily for media and dealers from across Europe. Sydney and Shanghai events were in the evening, timed to be simultaneous with New York, and were more variety-show style, with local celebrity hosts.


The Dearborn, MI, event, in a ballroom at Ford headquarters, was of course for the employees of the company. An email went company-wide for employees to RSVP to attend the event and the 700-person capacity filled up in four minutes. So they added a second event, plus a simulcast, that allowed them to invite retirees of the company.


The new Mustang’s appearance in Need for Speed and the tire-prints stunt are just a few of many marketing initiatives to come for the vehicle. Ford has yet to announce more in-depth specs and parameters of the car, including its price and even the various colors in which the car will appear. Details will unfold on social media, along with traditional ad campaigns, including one just announced in Europe, featuring Sienna Miller.


About the author

Ari Karpel is a frequent contributor to Fast Company and Co.Create and an instructor at UCLA Extension. His writing about culture, creativity and celebrity has also appeared in The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Men's Health, The Advocate and Tablet.


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