Ford is about to make its most aggressive play yet on Snapchat with actors Kevin L. Walker and Donnabella Mortel, and the automaker is using the Olympics to launch the campaign. There’s just one problem: Ford is not an official Olympics sponsor, which means it can’t use the litany of Olympic phrases and images that the United States Olympic Committee strictly controls.
But Ford has come up with a creative workaround for the campaign, which spotlights the 2017 Ford Escape SUV. The automaker’s Snapchat ads capture the Olympic spirit while seeking to carefully sidestep any trademark landmines. On Aug. 13, for instance, Ford will sponsor a Snapchat lens that allows people to cover their selfies in red, white and blue.
The automaker has also created more than 30 Snap ads — the 10-second ads that appear within Snapchat Stories — that make veiled, but recognizable, Olympic references. One video, for instance, shows a man doing an amateur pommel horse routine on the top of an Escape parked in a driveway.
Another video shows a restaurant waiter loading his arm with plates of hot dogs, with the phrase “we are all weightlifters,” along with the Escape tagline, “Unstoppable.”
An ad that will run during the NBC’s coverage of the Olympic opening ceremony on Friday brings the Snapchat theme to TV. The spot, which was shot in a vertical, smartphone style, strings together several Snapchat-style videos. The scenes include a woman doing a balance beam routine on a concrete barrier at the beach and and a man doing the splits on a subway car as the phrase “We Are All Gymnasts” scrolls on screen. The campaign’s broader theme is “We Are All Fans,” which continues Escape’s “We Are All” messaging that is part of Escape’s “Unstoppable” campaign.
The agency is WPP’s GTB, which is Ford’s AOR.
Ford plans to distribute more than 200 pieces of content across social media, including on Twitter and Facebook, in the next 17 days. All of it will have to carefully avoid USOC-protected phrases including “Olympic,” “Go for the gold,” “Let the games begin,” Team USA,” and “Road to Rio.” Those rights are reserved for sponsors, such as BMW, which is in the final year of its USOC sponsorship deal for the automotive category. Toyota takes over globally beginning in 2017.
The brand is so sensitive about the USOC rules that in the course of an interview about the new campaign, Lisa Schoder, Ford’s digital marketing manager, and Kellee Montgomery, social marketing manager, did not even say the word “Olympics.”
Ford is “being very mindful of the different regulations and guidelines about what advertisers can do in this space,” Ms. Schoder said. “Ford would never do anything in a malicious manner. We want to make sure we are mindful of that.” But she added that the brand always wants to be “paying attention to what is going in culture.” In other words, when millions of people are discussing the Olympics online beginning on Friday, Ford and other marketers don’t want to be left out.
The automaker has run Snapchat ads before, but the new push is by far its biggest Snapchat campaign. “This is a global event that is happening that a ton of people are talking about,” Ms. Montgomery said, referring to the Olympics without saying the word. “We’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to generate as much buzz as possible.”
On Friday, Ford will officially launch its first Snapchat account featuring its own content. The marketer’s Snap ads will run on Buzzfeed’s Snapchat channel. It’s notable that the campaign is for the family-friendly Escape SUV, rather than a starter car, considering that Snapchat has a reputation for being an app for teens. But Ford’s decision reflects the fact that Snapchat has begun luring older users.