It’s the 5oth anniversary of the Ford Edsel!
From the Washington Post:
Forget New Coke or the Susan B. Anthony dollar or the over-hyped Segway scooter or those pathetic dotcoms that went belly up in the late ’90s. The Edsel was the most colossal, stupendous and legendary blunder in the history of American marketing.
Hey, Washington Post! I think you forgot the Iraq War! On a happier note, kids, I think we found the official automobile of the Chimpy maladministration!!!
You simply must read the article! Change Edsel to the Iraq War, and Ford to the Chimpy Administration. A perfect metaphor!
The idea for the Edsel came from Ford executives who were thinking about market niches when they should have been thinking about cars.
Of course, a company launching a new car needs more than just an image and a name. It also needs, you know, a car.
The designers came up with some interesting ideas. They created a push-button transmission and put it in the middle of the steering wheel, where most cars have a horn. And they fiddled with the front end: Where other cars had horizontal chrome grilles, the Edsel would have a vertical chrome oval in its grille. It was new! It was different!
Unfortunately, it didn’t work. It couldn’t suck in enough air to cool the engine. So they had to make it bigger. And bigger.
Cars without parts can be a problem, of course, but other aspects of the Edsel juggernaut worked perfectly — the hype, for instance. Warnock and his PR team touted the glories of the cars, but wouldn’t let anybody see them. They wouldn’t even show pictures. When they finally released a photo, it turned out to be a picture of . . . the Edsel’s hood ornament. And hundreds of publications actually printed it!
Meanwhile, Warnock was giving friendly reporters sneak peeks at the car. “I let guys I trusted see the cars,” he says. “I’d unlock a couple of doors and take them down dark hallways. It was showmanship, and it worked. They loved the cars and they said so. And the public could hardly wait to see it because I was getting so much publicity.”
But styling was hardly the worst problem. Oil pans fell off, trunks stuck, paint peeled, doors failed to close and the much-hyped “Teletouch” push-button transmission had a distressing tendency to freeze up. People joked that Edsel stood for “Every day something else leaks.”
But the Edsel folks did not give up. No way. After months of sluggish sales, the crack PR team gathered to brainstorm ideas for selling Edsels. They were battered and weary and devoid of ideas until an adman named Walter “Tommy” Thomas blurted out a suggestion.
“Let’s give away a [bleeping] pony,” he said.
Much to Thomas’s amazement, his idea was not only accepted, it was expanded. The geniuses at Edsel decided to advertise a promotion in which every Edsel dealer would give away a pony. It worked like this: If you agreed to test-drive an Edsel, your name would be entered into a lottery at the dealership, with the winner getting a pony.
Ford bought 1,000 ponies and shipped them to Edsel dealers, who displayed them outside their showrooms. Many parents, egged on by their pony-loving children, traipsed in to take a test drive. Unfortunately, many of the lucky winners declined the ponies, opting instead for the alternative — $200 in cash — and soon dealers were shipping the beasts back to Detroit.
Now the Edsel folks were not only stuck with a lot of cars they couldn’t sell, they were also stuck with a lot of ponies they couldn’t give away. The cars were easy enough to store, but the ponies required food. And after they ate the food, they digested the food. And then . . . another fine mess for Edsel.
The article recounts how they got the name, Edsel. Ford did a bunch of research, consulted experts, and even asked a poet to think up a name. Since the execs could not agree on a name for the E-car (e for experimental), they decided to have a contest. They asked their employees to submit names. The winner would get a free E-car. Edsel was among the submissions. Edsel Ford was the son of founder Henry Ford and father of Henry Ford II, the company’s president. The list of names was eventually pared down to 10, and the execs hated all of them. Finally, chairman of the board, Ernest Breech, picked the name Edsel.
Why did Breech want to name the car Edsel?
“He was brown-nosing Mr. Ford,” says C. Gayle Warnock, now 91, who was the Edsel’s public relations director.
When Warnock heard about Breech’s decision, he banged out a one-sentence memo to Krafve: “We have just lost 200,000 sales.”
So, Ford thought up a car that there was really no need for. They poured more and more money into it, trying to fix what was a fundamentally flawed design. It was marketed in every way possible to make it attractive to the American public. The marketing was a success with the help of a friendly press. They ignored the experts and left key decisions up to someone who was just brown-nosing the boss. Lots of people were excited because of all the hype, but the car was a massive failure once everyone actually got a good look at it. And in the end, they wound up with piles of shit.
The Iraq War–Chimpy’s Edsel.