Bold Moves and Classic Cars: Ford’s Audacious Granada Campaign

Nothing could have prepared the world’s auto industry for Ford Motor Company’s marketing strategy in the early 1970s. It was a risky strategy, but it was also a brilliantly inspired campaign — the most blatantly brazen example to date of what might be called the industry’s ‘race to the bottom’. Envision this: in the fall of 1971, against the backdrop of a deteriorating economic situation in the United States, the slow collapse of America’s postwar boom, and rising inflation, Ford ‘slips’ a full-page advertisement into the Sunday New York Times. The ad takes dead aim at the Mercedes-Benz 280 — arguably the greatest luxury car of its day — and draws a direct comparison between it and the Ford Granada, a then-new and humble ‘mid-line’ American car that had been on sale for several months.

The Genesis of a Gutsy Campaign

When Ford introduced the Granada in 1975 as their mid-priced family sedan, they wanted to bring a little luxury to middle America at a modest price. Roughly halfway through the model’s run in the late-1970s, Ford’s marketing department decided to pull off a brave stunt. They would have their little sedan compete on the field with a heavyweight: the Mercedes-Benz. They weren’t just drawing parallels; they were trying to make this little American four-door into a plausible substitute for a luxury European model.

Ford's Dare to Compare

Courtesy Ford ArchivesBy any yardstick, this was an extremely bold advertising campaign: in print, and on television, Ford published full-page ads with a side-by-side comparison of the Granada and the Mercedes-Benz 280, challenging the viewer to tell which was which. This was much more than a daring tactic to raise awareness of the Granada’s styling. Ford’s public slight suggested a direct attack on the natures of value and luxury in automobiles.

The Granada vs. Mercedes: A Visual Rivalry

At first glance, Ford’s claim looked impossible. A car that sold for below $4,000 should not have been considered comparable to one that cost more than 10 times as much. But Ford’s ad campaign drew attention to the visual similarities between the Mercedes Benz 280’s sleeker design and the Granada’s boxier shape. This encouraged people to reconsider the terms by which they considered the true ‘luxury’ and ‘value’ in a car.

The Reality Behind the Rivalry

Desirable or not, the marketing gambit could not hide the fact that the Ford Granada was no Mercedes: The ads, hovering just on the edge of the outrageous, perhaps even the funny, succeeded in stirring the pot, but they also exposed a truth as obvious as it was large: The Granada and the 280 SE were uncannily similar only on a very skin‑deep level.

Reflections on Ford's Creative Marketing Move

The gambit remains today a case study on the efficacy of bold marketing The challenger (an entry-level sedan in 1960) might have been a bit of a stretch, but never mind. The hype was a coup de main, even if it backfired. It got people talking about the Ford Granada – and thinking about it – in a market segment it might never have reached otherwise.

The Long-lasting Impression of Ford’s Bold Move

The fact that Ford chose to position the Granada against the Mercedes-Benz 280 demonstrates the chutzpah of the strategy – and, of course, the fact that even at the height of swinging London, it might have seemed reasonable to aspire to Mercedes money. It is something of a lesson for all marketers that it can be the most radical moves that make the deepest impressions on history.

Understanding the Move

In the end, not only did the ‘Granara-Mercedes-Branchevergleich’ campaign advance the marketing agenda for the Granada, it became a critique of received wisdom. A mainstream auto manufacturer, embracing economies of scale with the focused production of the Granada (a derivative, in turn, of the successful Cortina), dared to place it in the lexicon of value production occupied by the Mercedes-Benz and its luxury derivatives. Stated directly, that advertisement was also a statement about perception and value, humanity and luxury, and the whole package, in clear violation of marketing conventions. Risky and polemical, emphatically not endorsement advertising, the ‘Granara-Mercedes-Branchevergleich’ advertises the value of thinking in advertising itself, a value of thinking that will outlast the ads. Ford’s ‘Granara-Mercedes-Branchevergleich’ embodies a kind of advertising thinking that, though endemic to modern advertising, is rarely accepted as its core value. The risky, confrontational and polemical approach to marketing advances a form of advertising that can never end.

Jun 16, 2024
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