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PR Disaster: Ford Suing The Only People Who Actually Still Care About Ford Cars

Ford and Mustang Emblems

Ford and Mustang Emblems

Preface: Maybe this post should be title “PR Disaster Averted… by Brand-Management Jedi Scott Monty.” This story changed a lot in the few hours after it was published due to Ford rep Scott Monty. If you read through the updates you’ll see that he single-handedly put down an internet uprising by acting fast, talking to the lawyers to get the real story and then fully explaining Ford’s actual position on the subject…

Ford is suing multiple Ford enthusiast web sites. You may want to read that again. Ford is suing multiple Ford-enthusiast web sites. Ford Motor Company, who loses an average of $1,925 every time it sells a vehicle and who wants billions from the government to keep operating under a failed business model* is now suing people who run Ford vehicle fan sites.

Websites such as The Ranger Station, Michigan Mustang and Mustang Evolution** have received legal notices from Fords lawyers. Jalopnik reports:

In a recent letter to enthusiast web sites, Ford’s reportedly requiring the relinquishment of all Ford trademarks including domain names, banners, signs and merchandise as well as a restitution payment of $5,000 by December 19th.

This company doesn’t understanding anything about… well, anything.

People who run Ford-enthusiast websites should be Ford’s closest allies at this moment. The company is on the ropes. They’ve gone to the government hat-in-hand and been denied. This may be their final hour and they’re lashing out at the people they need the most: people who still believe in the company’s products. (Yes, they’re out there.) They should be cultivating these brand ambassadors, but no, they’d rather send the lawyers after their best, and maybe only, source of positive word-of-mouth.

This is so short-sighted it defies belief. That is, unless you know that in 2006 after posting a record $12.7 billion net loss Ford gave its new CEO Alan Mulally $28 million for four months on the job. (This is according to the company’s proxy statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.) This man went to Washington in November with GM and Chrysler, collectively asking Congress to loan him $25 Billion of taxpayer money. When he was asked to take a symbolic salary cut to $1, not including stock options or bonuses where corporate-America CEOs make the majority of their money, he replied “I think I’m OK where I am.”(!?)

Well, pretty much no one else does, Alan. And now your company is suing the only people who do “think you’re OK where you are.”

What should Ford be doing with it’s fan sites? How about cultivating them? How about tapping into this community of folks passionate about your product…

  • Sponsor a barbecue and talk to these people about why they’re passionate about past Ford vehicles and apply that to future products. (The Ranger Station? Who loves Ford Rangers? Why?)
  • Host a track day at their proving grounds to strengthen the bond between the company and their most evangelistic customer base.
  • Reaching out to them with special promotional products you can only get through membership so they can increase their numbers.

Or jeez, maybe they could just not sue them into oblivion. That’s free.

The hubris runs high at Ford and it goes all the way to the top. President Bush said that giving this company a loan would be throwing good money after bad. I finally agree with him.

*Ford has stated that they’re not facing short-term liquidity issues like GM and Chrysler and they will not be seeking any sort of government funding – Link

**Mustang Evolution and Michigan Mustang have since been removed from the original Jalopnik Article as defendants; they are just reporting on the issue.

SAME-DAY UPDATE:

Good news! At least someone at Ford is paying attention to their base: about 30 minutes after this was posted, Scott Monty, Global Digital Communications Ford Motor Company, left a comment below. I’m pasting it into the body of the story, because I think it’s important to note that there are people at Ford who are “not pleased” as well.

I’m looking into this personally with our Chief Trademark Counsel. I’m not pleased that such action would be taken, but I’m trying to understand the full ramifications of the story.

I’ll update when I know more.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company

He also has a good post on his blog about how Ford can pay more attention to their customers (instead of, say, suing them.) Thanks for chiming in, Scott, I’m looking forward to your update.

SAME-DAY UPDATE #2:

Scott has more info on The Ranger Station: They were selling counterfeit merchandise branded as Ford. Pulled from the comments:

Thanks for bringing this issue to our attention. Without question, Ford enthusiasts are extremely important to us. Their enthusiasm and loyalty are part of our heritage and part of what’s going to keep us moving forward.

Recently, there was an item posted stating that Ford was requesting TheRangerStation.com to turn over its URL to Ford and pay $5,000. We’d like the opportunity to share some additional facts that might make a difference in how you think about this situation.

In its communications, TheRangerStation.com stated that Ford was making them change the name of their site and pay $5,000. What was not mentioned was that TheRangerStation.com was selling counterfeit Ford-brand merchandise on the site. As a company, Ford has a responsibility to protect our brand and a responsibility to our licensees. We cannot let something like that pass. (The counterfeit goods have been removed from the website since TheRangerStation.com got the letter from Ford’s attorney.)

Please know that Ford takes no joy in pursuing enthusiast sites. Since there are a number of sites out there with Ford vehicles as part of their names or URLs, some people have asked if they should be concerned. Ford has been and continues to be willing to license its trademarks for use by enthusiast groups and enthusiast websites. Requesting a license is done easily by contacting tmgroup@ford.com. To request a license to produce or sell branded merchandise bearing Ford’s trademarks, contact branduse@ford.com.

In short, we are not asking for $5,000 and we would like TheRangerStation.com to keep the domain name. We simply encourage TheRangerStation.com to contact Ford to request a license to continue using the domain name.

We hope you will share this information with anyone who is concerned. We deeply appreciate our fans’ dedication and enthusiasm and want to be able to work together with all of our supporters to tell the Ford story.

Scott Monty
Global Digital Communications
Ford Motor Company

That seems about 100% more reasonable, Scott. Thanks for keeping us in the loop. if anyone wants to get more on this story and read a play-by-play from Scott as he got to the bottom of things, check it out over at Mustang Evolution.

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  • Thomas Turner

    Whats the cost to “license” the domain name? Is it $5,000?

  • Bahamut

    Ummm… wtf? They *require* a license for you to use the word “Ranger” (or any of their car names)? That’s almost as bad as Monster Cables suing everyone using “Monster”.

  • Aielman

    Scott – I recently bought a Toyota due to the long term reliability problems I have seen in Gm, Ford and Chyrsler cars, but recently it really has seemed like Ford at least is turning things around, both in quality control and in the total company management. I applaud you in the way you have handled this situation and you can consider me as one more likely customer due to the way Ford handled both this problem and the bailout. If your cars can continue increasing their long term reliability – which I think they will – I will definitely be buying a Ford in the next few years.

  • http://www.scottmonty.com Scott Monty

    @Aielman – thanks for noticing and for giving us a fair shake. Car buying is a very personal decision, and the only thing we can do is to give you the information to be able to make that decision. If there’s anything you need to know, please reach out and I’ll do whatever I can.

    @Pam – this was a case of the site owner panicking when he got the notice (I spoke with him on the phone, so I know what happened). He had the site for 10 years, and was facing the possibility of having to change the URL, not to mention that he didn’t have $5,000. He posted the pertinent (to him) facts, while leaving out that the reason Ford contacted him was because he was selling counterfeit goods. He felt terrible about it, and about the fact that the news spread so far so quickly. He’s really a good guy that wants to do the right thing. Plus – he’s a fan! Ford *should* be there to support fans, as long as they’re not infringing on any property rights.

    @Bahamut – “license” doesn’t necessarily imply the exchange of money; it could be as simple as granting use. I can’t give a blanket statement, I hope you’ll understand.

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  • http://motorcitymarauders.com Kenny C.

    As a proud owner of a 2004 Mercury Marauder that was stickered at $37,000 I think I have earned the right to use its likeness in any way I wish. I am a member of two owner forums and show it at local car shows. If you Ford CEO’s wanna be dicks to the people that take their own personal time to tell everyone what great cars you make – I am speechless.

  • Fair Use

    It is absolutely incredible that Ford is offering to LICENSE fair use. Ford is pressing owners of its vehicles to obtain PERMISSION to show Ford’s cars or its own logo on their fan sites.

    Those who think it’s ok to license your FREEDOM OF SPEECH need to wake up. You have just signed off on your RIGHTS and now your website will remain under constant scrutiny each time you post something, because you have entered into a CONTRACT with them.

    Fight back, people. Wake up. Even copyrighted works can be copied for personal use. Of course you can show Ford’s logo on your site or have the word ‘ford’ in your domain without a license.

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  • Uncle B

    Bought a Ford Pinto in the 1970′s. It turned into a pile of red dust and oil spots right on the driveway, burned oil like a two-stroke and had a bad gas tank location. It was supposed to be an economy car but I never got good mileage with it either! I went out and bought a VW and never looked back! Ford lost me when they pawned off a piece of **** like the Pinto on an innocent trusting man. I worked hard for the money to buy that rip-off, and feel sore about it to this day. I expected quality and good engineering, instead I got screwed from the get-go! I can hardly sympathize with their “private jet executives” either, they look too well heeled to make a value based car for the common man. The Chinese work hard for their money too, maybe the will understand and sell a better product, the post WWII Germans sure did when the sold me my VW!

  • Clearly

    Frankly it smells like backpedaling spin and I’m left to wonder if “unlicensed” products are considered counterfeit or not. I’d rather buy a rice burner than I know won’t sue me for, say, making a calendar like a lot of people seem to be forgetting about.

    The “must protect trademark”? I’m sure Legal will do brilliantly at the performance reviews this Q, but at the cost of the company. Perhaps Ford is taking lessons from RIAA. Good future, good future.

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  • http://abc.com abhi

    People who run Ford-enthusiast websites should be Ford’s closest allies at this moment. The company is on the ropes. They’ve gone to the government hat-in-hand and been denied. This may be their final hour and they’re lashing out at the people
    http://manashosting.com

  • http://abc.com abhi

    I’m surprised. Scott made me actually like Ford just from him replying to this and being so informative it was on the same day.
    regards
    http://manashosting.com

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