Thursday, January 19, 2012

Putting the Ford into overdrive.

         When my own advertising agency had as a client the country's second-largest history museum, one of our goals was to get people talking about it. We knew it could multiply the effects of our budget.

          That was before social media marketing, of course, but the marketing director of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village was an expert on word of mouth. His name was Don Adams, and he spoke on the subject in colleges across the country, including Hawaii.

          Don was also completely up to speed on all the latest research on museum marketing. But word of mouth was close to Don's heart, and he loved when we worked together to do something that would generate conversation.
          The president of the museum, Harold K. Skramstad, Jr., was an intellectual, and keenly interested in ways of applying history to everyday life. You couldn't ask for better clients. They were great teachers and like most great teachers, they were intrepid learners as well. They loved the possibilities that the Internet offered.

          For example, as far back as late 2007, a Nielsen study showed the consumers placed more trust in brand Web sites than they did in testimonials. A huge 55% of the 70,000 consumers surveyed said the first place they would go for information was a company's Web site.

          What a great opportunity to get people excited, with stories about how Henry Ford bought and physically moved Thomas Edison's Menlo Park, N.J., laboratory to the 200 acres of Greenfield Village --- along with the boarding house where Edison's workers lived. And he recreated the bicycle shop where Orville and Wilber Wright built the airplane they flew at Kitty Hawk.

           Henry Ford had been worried about America changing too fast, and wanted to preserve some of his youth for future generations. He also brought the Salem, Illinois, courthouse where Abe Lincoln practiced law, and a one-room schoolhouse where you'd better behave or get a rap across the knuckles by the teacher who was busy teaching all the grades at the same time. He even moved his friend Harvey Firestone's Ohio farm to Greenfield Village, where the museum still operates it. And a nickelodeon and stores and blacksmith shops and much, much more of the America Mr. Ford cared about.

         The museum had a relatively small advertising budget, but we all loved working on it. We tried to be as provocative as possible and woodcuts, old photos, funny stories, satire --- anything to start a conversation.

        Today, of course, we would invent apps and all kinds of American and industrial history-related mobil sites, and I'm sure that on Facebook and Twitter we'd be doing ingenious things about the development of American transportation. And because of Don and Harold, we'd be finding ways to reach out on Linked In to high tech and not-so-high-tech innovators, and celebrating American invention.

       Henry Ford's Model T was available in "any color so long as it's black". Today, with social media, we even make that colorful.

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