INNOVATIVE MARKETING AND PR HELPED BUILD THE MUSTANG LEGEND
The launch of the Ford Mustang in the spring of 1964 had echoes of Beatlemania, which was sweeping the country at the same time. A Chicago Ford dealer closed early and called the police when Mustang prospects stormed the dealership, and in Garland, Texas, 15 customers bid on the same Mustang. The winner insisted on sleeping in the car overnight to guarantee that it wouldn't get sold from under him before his check cleared the bank. By 1966, more than one million Mustangs had been sold.
What created such unbridled enthusiasm for a new car? Great design, affordable performance and one of the most innovative and sustained marketing and public relations campaigns in history.
For example, Mustang was the first – and perhaps only – car to park on the 86th floor observation deck of New York’s Empire State Building. In October 1965, Ford engineers disassembled a 1966 Mustang convertible and took it up in four sections using the building’s passenger elevators. But that project followed more than two years of intense marketing activity.
The very fact that the 1964 ½ Mustang was introduced in the spring was part of the strategy to gain attention for the new model. In that day, automakers almost without exception introduced new models in the fall. Breaking with this tradition assured that the Mustang would have the attention of the automotive press all to itself.
Between "embargoed" press briefings on the design and engineering of the Mustang in January and the reveal of the car at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, Ford Division slowly leaked details to the public to build Mustang mania to a fever pitch.
There were a number of cases of the supposedly secret Mustang being driven in public where it was likely to be seen by the media. Naturally, the sightings that resulted were reported in major news outlets. None of this, however, compared with the unprecedented media exposure the car received at its reveal.
On the evening before the official introduction at the World’s Fair, Ford ran ads for the Mustang on all three television networks simultaneously and followed them the next day with newspaper ads placed in 2,600 newspapers around the country.
At the fair itself, Mustang was the star of Ford Motor Company’s Wonder Rotunda and the Disney-designed "Magic Skyway" exhibits. Fairgoers seated in one of 12 Wimbledon white Mustang convertibles (with engines, transmissions and fuel tanks removed) rode the Disney Magic Skyway through exhibits that displayed the earth’s past from the age of dinosaurs (complete with animatronic cavemen) to the glass and steel buildings of the "City of Tomorrow." The 22-story Rotunda itself was the size of three football fields and required enough steel to erect a skyscraper.
Following the fair, a number of the cars were refurbished and sold through Ford’s employee resale lot in Dearborn, Mich.
A Mustang for the Whole Family
At the car’s launch, the company expected annual sales of about 100,000 units. But 22,000 Mustang orders were taken on the first day, and sales reached an astounding 417,000 in the car’s first 12 months.
Mustang’s impressive sales statistics do not include the myriad specialty vehicles licensed by Ford Motor Company. In 1964, the least expensive Mustang was a pedal-powered car that became the hot Christmas gift of 1964, when more than 93,000 were sold.
Another very affordable 1965 Mustang was the $537 "Mustang Jr.," built for Ford by the Powercar Company of Mystic, Conn. This 70-inch "fun" car could be ordered with a 2 ¼-horsepower, two-cycle gasoline engine good for 20 mph, or as a battery-powered model that cruised at a more sedate 5 mph.
Race on Sunday, Sell on Monday
After the World’s Fair reveal, racing helped keep Mustang in the headlines. Not much more than a month after its April 17 introduction, Mustang was on the race track as the 1964 Indianapolis 500 pace car. Racing continued to play an important role in building Mustang’s reputation throughout the 1960s.
In 1965, Carroll Shelby responded to Ford’s challenge to build a winning road-racing program by introducing the Mustang GT350 for Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) competition. That year, Jerry Titus, Bob Johnson and Mark Donohue drove GT350s to a national title and the GT350 went on to win SCCA B-Production national championships for three straight years.
Other legends associated with Mustang include Parnelli Jones, who drove a Mustang Boss 302 to win the 1970 SCCA Trans Am title, and John Force, the most successful driver in NHRA drag racing history.
A Life Transforming Device
Throughout its launch, Mustang made full use of the burgeoning popularity of television. Early Mustang television ads portrayed the car as a life-transforming device. In one, a dowdy antique dealer is seen skipping his habitual lunch in a teashop for a romantic getaway with a beautiful young woman.
Not to miss out on the fun, a normally staid scientist named Liz is transformed into a bon vivant with an entourage of adoring men once she starts driving a new Mustang.
Print ads were in on the fun too. One put a twist to the title of a contemporary book popular with young women. Titled "Six and the Single Girl," the spot promoted the practicality and sporty style of the six-cylinder Mustang.
The glamour of the movies also helped build the romance associated with Mustang. All told, early Mustangs have figured prominently in hundreds of notable films, including the James Bond films "Goldfinger" (1964) and "Diamonds are Forever" (1971), "Bullitt" (1968) starring Steve McQueen, and "Gone in 60 Seconds" (both the original 1974 film and the 2000 remake starring Nicholas Cage).
No Slowing Down
Mustang fever has never really abated since the World’s Fair – passion for the first-generation 1964 ½ to 1973 cars is as strong as ever judging from the estimated 250 Mustang enthusiast clubs spread around the world. One reason for the sustained popularity of these classics is their attainability. One can easily find a V-8-powered 1965 Mustang with highly desirable options in good cosmetic and running condition for less than $10,000.