Ford targets new audience as it becomes first brand to launch a car at a gaming event

Ford sees a natural overlap between its brand and what’s happening in the gaming industry as it endeavours to reach a new audience, but admits it took some convincing to get the company on board with the strategy.

Ford Europe has gone where no other car manufacturer has before, becoming the first to launch a vehicle at a gaming event as the company looks to engage a new audience and be more innovative within its communication strategy.

Speaking to Marketing Week, Ford Europe’s executive director of communications and public affairs Michael Baumann, says a “core part” of Ford’s brand is racing so “it felt like a natural fit” to launch the Ranger Raptor at Gamescom, an annual gaming event held in Cologne. The car was unveiled within a 4D race simulator and is set to feature in the new Xbox racing game Forza Horizon 4, to be released next month.

“Gaming and racing are two passions that a lot of gamers share so there’s a natural overlap between Ford’s DNA and what’s happening in the gaming industry,” he explains.

“Initially I had no clue about just how big the gaming industry is and how much it’s growing. The revenue the industry creates is huge and eventually we saw it as untouched territory. But we seem to be the only car manufacturer who is recognising the opportunity at this point.”

Gamescom attracts almost 400,000 attendees, but according to Baumann it still wasn’t easy convincing the team at Ford that this was the right target audience for its newest vehicle.

“At first people have this impression that gamers are teenagers and therefore not relevant to our target audience. But when you look at the data, you’ll find gamers are much older than you think,” he says.

This audience is very receptive to being sold to this way as long as you don’t make this a selling proposition and an engaging experience instead.

Michael Baumann, Ford

“When we started to present more of the data regarding the audience in the gaming environment we could convince people internally a bit better.”

Nevertheless, Baumann acknowledges that gaming does attract young consumers that won’t yet be in the market for a car, but says Ford saw this as an opportunity to reach potential future customers. By using Gamescom as a virtual showroom for the brand, Baumann says it offers an opportunity to reach these people at scale.

“We know we need to engage with a young audience. Right now they might not be the right age to be buying a car but we need to form a brand connection early and this is a good moment to start that,” he says.

“The experience you get playing a racing game today is so realistic and so close to being in the actual vehicle.”

The move to launch a new vehicle at Gamescom was also part of Baumann’s wider plan to go down the road of a more experienced-based communications strategy, while it also offers the brand an opportunity to get its message across in a less-saturated environment.

While car shows remain important for car marques, many have been looking for new places to launch cars such as at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas or Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

“We’ve had success at car shows before, but the environment at these events is so competitive. Getting through with your messaging becomes increasingly difficult,” he says.

“The gaming audience is very receptive to being sold to this way as long as you don’t make this a selling proposition and an engaging experience instead.”

Following the launch, Baumann confesses the brand has learned a lot about how to tap into the gaming industry and offer experiential ways to engage with consumers.

And he said doesn’t see Gamescom as a “one-off”, indicating the company is likely to allocate more of its budget to this sector and alternative form of marketing.

“This is an ongoing effort. We have such a close relationship between Ford engineers and game developers it’s becoming a seamless experience from the game to the real thing. We are definitely longer-term engaging with the gaming industry because it’s a very interesting area for us and we’re keen to tap into that audience,” he says.

“A lot of comments from consumers on social media are saying what a cool brand Ford is in this environment. That for us proves this is the right strategy.”

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