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'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

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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