Ford Lacks An American Idol Storyline

In an article in Advertising Age, Martin Lindstrom (author of “Buyology: Truth and Lies About Why We Buy What We Buy“) discusses neuromarketing research which looked at how brand impressions impacted 2,000 consumers. As part of the study, they examined the value that Coke, AT&T, and Ford received from their $25+ million sponsorship deals with American Idol.

It turns out that the connection with the hit TV show increased the brand equity for Coke and AT&T, but it had a negative impact on the Ford brand.  


Lindstrom suggests that these results stem from how the brands were incorporated into the show. Coke and AT&T were integrated within the flow of the show, but Ford’s impressions lacked a clear purpose. According to Lindstrom:

What we learned was that if a brand is part of a story line, our brains will accept the role of the brand and remember its presence. However, if a brand and its role don’t support the story line, the opposite will happen: Our brains will simply erase it.

My take: Storytelling is a powerful, yet under-appreciated, tool. People have a hard time remembering a bunch of disconnected facts, but they can remember an abundance of details about a story that resonates with them.

Whenever I am doing a research project, I’m constantly asking “what’s the story?” Even when the research is completed, I end up spending an enormous amount of time fine-tuning how we tell the story. Is it worth it? I really think so. As the management guru John Kotter has said:

Over the years I have become convinced that we learn best–and change–from hearing stories that strike a chord within us.

The bottom line: Words are cheap, but a great story is priceless.

Written by 

I am a customer experience transformist, helping large organizations improve business results by changing how they deal with customers. As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. I am also a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Simply put, I am passionate about spotting emerging best practices and helping companies master them. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. My “title” is Managing Partner of the Temkin Group, a customer experience research and consulting firm that helps organizations become more customer-centric. Our goal is simple: accelerate the path to delighting customers. I am also the co-founder and Emeritus Chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, a non-profit organization dedicated to the success of CX professionals.

5 thoughts on “Ford Lacks An American Idol Storyline”

  1. This one is interesting Bruce because I think Ford did do a good job of storytelling. As an American Idol junkie I can tell you that my family enjoyed many of the Ford commercials. Each told a story (some better than others) and always included the show’s contestants. Although I can certainly see a brand neutral result of the research, I am surprised that instead, the spots created a negative impression.

    While I agree with everything you said, my take is more in line with what Lindstrom said. In a vacuum, the Ford spots may have been clever, fun and story-based, they did not support the American Idol story line. A challenge to Ford’s advertiser next year would be to figure out how to solve for that problem. And the solution doesn’t reside with another series of commercials.

  2. Maybe the negative impact on Ford had nothing to do with the way it was integrated into American Idol at all. Maybe the negative perception of Ford is the result of a overall negative perception of Ford.

    1. Jay: That’s certainly possible, but I don’t think its the case. If Ford’s brand was perceived so negatively that any brand impression was negative, then they’d run into trouble with all of their ads. And, they’d be in even worse position today. Although every car maker seems to be in pretty bad shape at this point. Thanks for the comment!

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