TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Today’s hard-to-reach millennial consumers do not trust big corporations and are not easily influenced by Hollywood celebrities, but they are hungry for authenticity and are accustomed to seeking advice from peers on social networks.

So how do auto makers market technologically sophisticated new vehicles to such a group?

You “give up your brand,” Jim Farley, group vice president-global marketing, sales and service for Ford, says at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars here.

Auto makers need to devise strategies that let ordinary people market their products in peer-to-peer fashion on social networks such as Facebook and YouTube, he says.

“Let’s face it, you can have the best navigation, music system and park-assist technology on the planet, but if your customers don’t know about them or understand how to use these features, you’re going nowhere.”

Farley’s epiphany came in 2006, when Time magazine named “You” its person of the year. The cover story detailed how people are changing in their interactions with media and society.

“At Ford, our answer has been to let our customers speak for us,” Farley says. “We’ve realized that the customer owns our brand, not us, and we’re letting them tell our stories in their own voice.”

Ford pioneered this approach with its online Fiesta Movement campaign and has carried it forward with the launch of numerous other vehicles.

“We introduced the new Explorer on Facebook through a program called ‘Explorer Live.’

Rather than telling people what we wanted them to hear, we invited them to ask us questions about the new vehicle,” Farley says.

“We responded to thousands of questions and posted video responses to a number of them.

This online dialogue with customers literally defined the direction of our Explorer television advertising later on.”

Ford also communicates information about product technology through multiple, shorter-length television commercials.

Rather than try to explain many features in one long TV ad, Ford is using 15-second spots to concisely explain individual features on the Ford Focus, such as active grille shutters.

In all, Ford made numerous versions of 14 different 15-second TV spots about technology that were shown frequently.

“For us, it was a stronger cumulative impact,” Farley says.

dwinter@wardsauto.com