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Ford StreetKa - a new star shines over the old brand

How Ford turned StreetKa from a car into a celebrity. By Angus Jenkinson, Professor of Integrated Marketing and Branko Sain, Research Fellow in Integrated Marketing at Luton Business School.

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StreetKa is a highly attractive convertible evolution of the Ford Ka. The car has been designed to convert the perception that Ford got this boring, old, fuddy-duddy image. The advertising agency Ogilvy and the PR agency Piranha Kid were appointed by Ford as partners in the journey that activated unprecedented exposure for a car, triggered substantial sales even before the launch and, most importantly started to eradicate the perception that Ford manufactures sensible family cars, but there’s so many better cars out there that are more exciting.

The challenge

Ford’s objective was to get rid of the well-rooted perception of its cars as dull, boring, and traditional. They developed StreetKa, a new car based on the existing Ka model. The endeavour to design a catchy, trendy and sexy car paid off. The car is the main constituent of the communications mix, it is the single most important medium and message that conveys the big overriding idea. The challenge was to leverage the idea and strong product message as smartly as possible with the trendy and fashion-conscious young community. Traditionally, they would not see the Ford brand as one that would characterise their personalities and lifestyle. The goal was to change this. Ogilvy knew conventional advertising could not achieve this. Motivated by the need for achieving top-quality results and encouraged by the WPP Partnership in practice scheme that rewards collaboration between WPP agencies, they decided to work with Piranha Kid, one of the WPP PR specialists. The collaboration designed and implemented a campaign that predominantly relied on PR.

The strategy

Ogilvy conceived the idea that young trendy people follow very closely the lives of celebrities, identify with them and imitate their image. The big idea was to turn StreetKa from a car to a celebrity. Ogilvy and Piranha Kid approached the challenge redefining the role of ‘agency’ into that of ‘agent’. They opted to include two fundamental ingredients in their strategy: association and exclusivity. Just like a raising star on the jet-set circuit wants to be seen and photographed with the trendiest people of the moment, so StreetKa needed to be endorsed by the most popular celebrities. They selected the pop singer Kaylie Minogue and the celebrity fashion designer Julien MacDonald. This is how Ogilvy explain their choice:

Why Kylie?

She is the star with the biggest capacity to generate headlines. She has universal appeal – male, female, gay or straight. She epitomises the sassy glamour and sex appeal that we wanted to capture for Streetka. Also as luck would have it she had a 39-date European Tour, which suited our timing. There was no one bigger at the end of 2001 than her. Rarely off the front pages she was crowned ‘The Princess of Pop’ and was number one in every country across Europe, with both her album ‘Fever’ and its record-selling single ‘Can’t get you out of my head’.

Why Julien MacDonald?

He is the darling of the fashion world. A daring and media savvy designer who had just been appointed head designer at Givenchy. Fated as the successor to Versace his star was in the ascendant. He specialises in the kind of sexy glamour that Streetka’s all about. Partnership with him would guarantee us column inches.

However, as a media savvy celebrity, StreetKa had to avoid the damaging effects of over-exposure. Well-planned activities, implemented in most prestigious settings and with accurate timing were the key.

The 3 steps to stardom

The implementation consisted of three major steps, or as Ogilvy put it: The frisson of anticipation, Tease and tantalise, and Where fantasy meets reality. The Ogilvy and Piranha Kid internal ‘WPP Partnership in practice nomination application’ outlines these phases:

Phase one, summer 2002: The frisson of anticipation Four PR shots of Kylie with the car, taken by Bruno Bisang, formed the basis of the press release in March 2002 announcing the collaboration with Kylie. Sponsorship of Kylie’s European tour during the following summer, a year before the official on sale date, was designed to leave our target audience breathless with anticipation. The culmination was for Kylie to unveil the car at the press launch at the Paris Auto Show in September, signing the bonnet for the benefit of the amassed cameras.

Phase two, autumn 2002: Tease and tantalise October brought Julien MacDonald’s spring/summer show at London’s Grosvenor House. Centre stage was Streetka customised by Julien himself in the style of his ‘Super-Paradise’ show and encrusted with $1m worth of diamonds on loan from De Beers. The show was the highlight of London fashion week, the only one to be attended by Anna Wintour (American Vogue). Streetka was a star of the show, drawing attention of all the movers and shakers in the industry. His autumn/winter show in February 2003 caused no less of a stir as once again Streetka took to the stage, this time with modelling sensation Elizabeth Jagger at the wheel. Phase three, spring 2003: Where fantasy meets reality Now that the car is on sale, phase three is kicking in. Our aim is to move Streetka further into mainstream consciousness, whilst maintaining its cachet and desirability. Planned activity will build on our foundations in fashion and music and will include sexy lingerie brand Agent Provocateur, hair stylists Toni & Guy, legendary fashion photographer David LaChappelle and London’s Mardi Gras.


The association of the three stars, StreetKa - Kylie – Julien, reached more than 50 million opportunities to see (OTS). 50% of the press coverage was in lifestyle rather than traditional automotive publications, which is unprecedented for a Ford car. Ford’s media influence index rose by 25% in the UK.5 Brand tracking studies revealed the difference of opinion between StreetKa aware and StreetKa unaware women aged 25-34 (primary target audience):

  • Overall opinion of Ford +10%
  • Ford makes modern and up-to-date cars +25%
  • Ford makes cars I would be proud to own +20%
  • Ford makes cars that have attractive exterior styling +37.5%

    As a control comparative analysis with Germany, who did not leverage the Kylie relationship as much as the UK, achieved lower scores overall.

    The perception of the Ford brand also changed in the minds of the target community. From non-exciting, boring, old they found Ford StreetKa as fashionable and sexy. Ford have reached a new audience. The 1000 First Edition StreetKas (one third of the total production forecast for the whole of 2003) were sold within 3 weeks of the end of the UK Motorshow in October 2002, well before the official on-sale date of March 2003. Ogilvy, Ford and Piranha have shared knowledge and learning. Ford now considers lifestyle PR a key component of their marketing mix. This has generated additional business for Piranha Kid. (SportKa, Fusion+, Fiesta, and Focus). The success also created a new sense of pride and confidence within Ford, and the two agencies. To date we have still yet to run a paid for commercial or press campaign.

    Executive takeaway

    The Integrated Marketing learning points from this case are multiple. The Communications optimisation concept of any discipline in any medium for any objective have been proved effective. The marketing communications objective of idea forming has been achieved though lifestyle PR and not through advertising. The second learning point is around the concept of convergence of products service and communication. Here the product was designed as a piece of communication that had to change the perception of the brand as a whole: the car as a celebrity. The product is of a service to the target community and it communicates a message about the brand. To prove the point, StreetKa’s sales are not profitable and the whole project is seen as a marketing (communications) investment. The third point consists of the exemplar of client-agency-agency partnership model. The three parties realised that they will achieve a breakthrough only via a collaborative partnership. This consciousness is accompanying their work to date and besides successful marketing communications, it is ensuring that every participant is encouraged to release their creative potential.

    To view this case study, including notes, in pdf format, click on the attached document.

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