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I think it's only fitting that I start my first 'Brand Finds' article with my constant need to perfect that is typically accompanied by - dare I say it? - Procrastination. I think it has taken me years to bring this blog to life because of the voice in my head which needs me to make it just how I want it (which is a moving target) but is also filled with moments of shoulda, woulda, couldas.

The world has been in a pandemic of perfection and procrastination longer than all others combined. As evidence, I offer the Ford Motor Company Crisis of the early 1950s.

Ford Motor Company has been one of the cool kids from the Detroit automaker industry, and for good reason. It has worked tirelessly to create iconic standards to which all others must measure. But how is it possible to be right every single time? The typical answer is customer-centricity. And Ford planned to do just that.

In 1948 (popularly known as the year of the automobile), the Ford family wanted to disrupt the market by creating a different medium price range car from their only existing offering - the Ford Mercury. They began their journey to perfection with the first step of product development - Research.

It's going to the world's best procrastination.

An important step to ensure that the final product is viable and profitable, Ford spent over 7 years understanding the consumer, the market and the competition. What they didn't see coming was the cost of waiting for so long while many external factors changed the complete market structure. The first curveball hits in 1950 with the Korean War which didn’t allow for new car production leading to further delay. Soon after, they continued to research with their final findings presented to top management in 1954. The report predicted greener pastures in the future with added hope for all those who got it right. Even though top management was aware of the intentional inertia of no new market offerings by any big player, they were more than eager to meet the optimistic report halfway.

Following the research debrief, Ford was well underway to create the car everyone dreamt of, with huge budgets allocated towards design. A special products division was responsible to bring the car to life after taking in key insights from the research team. The car lived on the drawing board for another year where it came to be known as E-Car. The delays at this point now started having a cumulative effect on outcomes with the E-car having so many modifications that most relevant ones never really stayed on the final design. The chief objective of the design department was to think the same, but different. Somehow the ambiguity of this explanation stuck with the E-Car not only in its design but also in its naming.

From the beginning, the Ford family did not want their names on the Ford cars. This was relayed to the research team which underwent more rounds of research with several collaborations to find nothing. Zilch!

All the names as a result of the study only found their way to becoming the model names. The amount of time spent only led to more frustration leading to the one thing that shouldn’t have happened - they went back to the name ‘Edsel’ - the only son of Henry Ford.

The Edsel unfortunately also struggled with having a personality that resonated with its customers. In an attempt to not make it yet another generic family car for the new middle class, they went seeking the unexpressed nuances of why people buy a car. This is easier said than done. For this reason, Ford’s team researched more on how different cars in the day were perceived by customers and how each was different. What came out was another report. The result was - Edsel is a smart car for the younger executive or professional family on its way up. This personality was a sad attempt to cover every weakness of every competitor on American roads with one car - the Edsel. The truth was simple - No one car can solve all customer problems and meet everyone’s needs.

By this point, the car had three different lives - one in design, one in name and one in personality. All three never converged with the market situation. But Ford kept at it, with a grand launch of the Edsel after a complete internal rebranding for the car was undertaken.

One unfortunate marker of active inertia was renaming all the relevant divisions as Edsel. The idea was well-intentioned, but only cosmetic changes meant yet another grave digging act for a tumultuous fall from glory.

Marketing and advertising efforts were made to be larger than life experiences. They created small teasers across all media to introduce a veiled metal figure which had everyone asking ‘Is that the Edsel?’ Additionally, all dealers current (and new) were given exclusive deals to put the car on display in the showrooms to create that hysteria they had worked so hard for. No matter where they appeared, it was only a hint. Normally, this would garner attention. But something else was brewing, the smart car for the future - the compact hatchback.

Unbeknownst to Ford, they continued to create a spectacle by doing a roadshow on launch day with many cars being pushed to a degree they weren’t meant to run. While all of the top management was worried about whether the show will end safely and successfully, they missed the whispers of remarks towards the car’s outlandish design. This was followed by car breakdowns as the dealers rode off the cars to their showrooms in an attempt to get the whole city full of Edsels on the road.

In the next three days and the following year, Edsel made a giant like Ford rethink everything. Ford stopped production in the summer of ’58. From people to process, design to distribution, research and finances, everything was reexamined to understand why the car failed progressively. There are many systemic issues associated with the fall of Edsel but the most significant being the delay between thinking and doing which is probably why I have been autocorrected to Easel every time I wrote Edsel in this piece.


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