DEARBORN — Ford Motor Co. is drawing on the popularity of a classic animated television character to establish C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid as better, more fuel-efficient hybrid alternatives to Toyota Prius v through a new advertising campaign that broke Thursday.
Reviving a classic 1970s character from a popular Italian animated children’s series called “La Linea” — also a hit in the U.S. in the 1980s — the new ads use the series’ familiar style to showcase C-Max Hybrid’s “real-vehicle” performance, technology and value to new buyers.
“The ‘La Linea’ C-Max Hybrid ads are simple, unique spots that will introduce our first all-hybrid line in North America to Americans by hand-drawing the vehicle’s silhouette and showing how it beats Prius v, especially in fuel economy,” says Matt VanDyke, director of United States marketing communications for Ford (NYSE: F). “We also are targeting customers who have been sitting on the hybrid fence by showing how the new C-Max Hybrid offers the value, performance and technology they previously thought had to be sacrificed for efficiency.”
The national campaign for C-Max launches across the U.S. and features TV and digital components. Integrated efforts featuring social media, print ads and events are to follow in targeted regions.
The C-Max is Ford’s first line dedicated completely to hybrids, and the C-Max Hybrid will be featured first with C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid model joining the campaign later this year.
The animated “La Linea” series was a pop culture phenomenon between 1970 and 1986, seen in various ways in more than 50 countries around the world; in the U.S. it appeared on “Great Space Coaster,” a popular children’s TV show.
“La Linea” — Italian for “the line” — follows the adventures of a nameless and speechless character traversing a never-ending line and often frustrated by obstacles encountered. Trapped in a two-dimensional world, the character has little option but to appeal to an unseen, off-screen animator armed with a grease pencil. The animator obliges by drawing a solution, though often with a twist.
In the Ford campaign, the series stays true to its roots with the character constantly being frustrated by the limitations of the Toyota Prius v, such as the lower amount of horsepower featured in one of the spots.
As a solution, the animator draws a C-Max Hybrid for the character. Once behind the wheel of a Ford C-Max Hybrid — with its 188 total system horsepower vs. 134 offered by Prius — the animated character happily finds his place traveling at a normal speed down the highway. In the end, the “real-vehicle” aspect of C-Max Hybrid is once again showcased as it breaks out of the fantasy world of animation and real footage of the vehicle is shown.
“That’s why this campaign works so well – because C-Max is capable of saving people from the limitations and frustrations of current hybrids,” said VanDyke. “But the ads are done with just the right tonality of competitiveness versus a strong competitor. It clearly positions our product in a fun way.”
Plenty of opportunities exist for Ford to position itself in a positive way against Prius.
For example, as the first Ford hybrid to achieve equal city and highway fuel economy figures, C-Max Hybrid delivers EPA-certified 47 mpg city, 47 mpg highway ratings – 7 mpg better than Prius v on the highway – for a 47 mpg combined rating.
Delivering fuel efficiency is important, according to a recent poll commissioned by Ford. In fact, 25 percent of survey respondents said that if they had $1,000 of discretionary income to spend on energy savings, they would put it toward a vehicle with hybrid technology.
C-Max Hybrid goes further by offering 15 class-exclusive features, such as SmartGauge with EcoGuide and the available hands-free liftgate — featured in one of the TV spots when the character has its hands full and is unable to reach for keys.
“La Linea” was created by Italian artist Osvaldo Cavandoli in 1969. It quickly grew in popularity and became a worldwide hit that was shown in more than 50 countries. Between 1971 and 1986, there were 90 “La Linea” episodes created with each episode less than three minutes long.
Cavandoli died in 2007 but the company that has controlled licensing of the show for 30 years, Quipos, retains and maintains control of “La Linea.”
Quipos worked with Dearborn-based Team Detroit, the Ford advertising agency behind the campaign, to ensure the C-Max spots had the vintage look and authenticity of Cavandoli’s original product, said Brad Hensen, creative director at Team Detroit.
In fact, the licensing agreement mandates the animation must be done by hand, or as Hensen says, through “old-school cell animation.” That’s opposite to the way most animation is done today — with computers — though that isn’t to say computers aren’t used in the animation process.
Shilo, the New York-based Emmy Award-winning company handling production of the TV spots for the C-Max campaign, made computer versions of the ads first. The computer versions were then sent to the animators so they could create everything by hand.
Shilo has produced a wide range of commercials, from the MetLife Insurance spots featuring Snoopy and the Peanuts to ads for EA, Under Armour, AT&T and Lincoln.
“The fact that each cell has to be hand-drawn lends a certain warmth to the animation,” said Hensen. “All of this other computer animation we are being inundated with – including ads by other automakers – is just too fluid, too slick, too perfect. Life isn’t that way. Being more real is another way this campaign truly reflects the vehicle.”
In fact, the C-Max Hybrid and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrid both deliver the “real-car” feel of traditional gas-powered vehicles. In addition to the higher horsepower delivered, standard technologies such as Torque Vectoring Control, Curve Control and electric power-assisted steering offer impressive driving dynamics and maneuverability with road-holding capability and sportiness.
Further, Ford’s hybrid powersplit architecture allows the electric motor and gas engine to work together — or separately — to maximize efficiency. In C-Max Hybrid, the feature enables electric-mode driving of up to 62 mph, a 30 percent increase over previous-generation hybrids.
The technology of the C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid also lends to that “real-car” feel by not forcing owners to go without for the sake of not draining power sources. That’s important to note because Ford has a portfolio of roughly 500 patents classified as hybrid technology that has steadily been growing and shows in today’s hybrid vehicles.
The SmartGauge with EcoGuide feature, for example, has a dual-screen LCD design that allows the customer to tailor their vehicle information to their needs with four levels of customizable information.
The all-new 2013 C-Max Hybrid is expected to be America’s most affordable hybrid utility vehicle with a base price of $25,995, including destination and delivery, which is $1,300 lower than Prius v. C-Max Hybrid is for sale at Ford dealerships nationwide.
C-MAX Energi – at $29,995 after a federal tax credit (including destination and delivery) – is available for order at select Ford Certified EV Dealers.