“For much of 2005, Ford was dogged by the 3-million-member American Family Association, a conservative group that threatened to boycott Ford if it didn’t stop advertising in gay-oriented publications. …One of its supporters is Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan AFA, who told the Free Press that Ford shouldn’t alienate ‘a major portion of the consumer market.'”
DETROIT FREE PRESS
January 24, 2006
‘Brokeback’ film has a key lesson for Ford
by Desiree Cooper,
Free Press Columnist
As the metro area reels from news of the Ford Wixom plant closing, one hopes the lagging carmaker is not only going to improve the quality of its cars, but also develop allegiance to its brand. As CEO Bill Ford said yesterday, Ford can’t cut its way to success; its success also depends on what it stands for.
For decades, Cadillac was the car of the black middle class, the symbol of having arrived. Now Cadillac has reinvented itself as urban chic, garnering the loyalty of younger generations. When I was growing up, the Volkswagen wasn’t just an inexpensive, reliable car, it was the symbol of peace and love. That’s what Ford needs — brands that not only perform well and look good, but that also evoke meaning.
Maybe it should consider becoming the world’s first “Brokeback” car company.
Gay-friendly gold mine?
If the success of the film “Brokeback Mountain” proves anything, it’s that commercial ventures can make money by addressing the gay audience. Maybe that’s why Ford was one of many auto companies and dealers that spent $7 million to advertise in gay media in 2004, according to Rivendell Media Co.
Yet, for much of 2005, Ford was dogged by the 3-million-member American Family Association, a conservative group that threatened to boycott Ford if it didn’t stop advertising in gay-oriented publications.
When presented with 110,000 AFA petition signatures, Ford agreed to cut its support of the gay community. That drew fire from the gay rights organizations, and in December, Ford backtracked, renewing its commitment to gay-friendly publications, finances permitting.
That rankled the AFA, which, along with at least 40 other conservative organizations, has rekindled its threat. One of its supporters is Gary Glenn, president of the Michigan AFA, who told the Free Press that Ford shouldn’t alienate “a major portion of the consumer market.”
But what portion of the consumer market are we talking about? Gay households have an annual income of $65,000, well above the average of $45,000 for all U.S. households. I’d say that’s quite a market, too.
The ‘Brokeback’ brand
“Brokeback Mountain” takes place in Wyoming in the 1960s, where real men were supposed to love the big sky, sheep herding and strong coffee — but not each other. The story follows one such forbidden love affair through its tragic end.
The beautifully rendered film has resonated with mainstream viewers, too. On the heels of winning a Golden Globe, it pulled in $7.8 million last weekend, placing fifth, even though it was showing in less than half as many venues as films like “Glory Road,” and “Hoodwinked.”
According to Rivendell, the buying power of gays and lesbians is an estimated $610 billion. “Brokeback” has shown that the economic power of that market can be harnessed without sacrificing mainstream customers.
For Ford, the way forward may be to become blatantly “Brokeback” — inclusive, daring and above all, top quality.