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Ford's Focus Fail: "Doug," a Lecherous Orange Handpuppet, Finds Few Fans

The 2012 Ford Focus is flying off dealer lots but that's almost certainly nothing to do with "Doug," a rude, horny and frequently hilarious orange handpuppet who lives entirely on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, and who was invented to promote the Focus.

Doug is gaining little traction in social media, calling into question -- again -- whether the arena is a good one for marketers to advertise products. Doug is probably one of the single most interesting, innovative, and entertaining marketing ideas Ford (F) has ever come up with. Yet few are interested in his antics, judging by his audience numbers.

Focus sales were up 22.4 percent to 17,265 cars in April -- making the car one the company's mainstay nameplates. By contrast, the Taurus, once the backbone of the company, saw only a 1.6 percent increase to 6,262 vehicles. Doug, meanwhile, posted a Mother's Day greeting on YouTube that was seen by only 1,300 people at the time of writing:

Six of Doug's 18 videos have received fewer than 10,000 views. Doug has only 1,000 or so followers on Twitter. He's doing a little better on Facebook, where Doug has gotten nearly 36,000 "likes," but that's still a pitiful following for the brand icon of a major national advertiser like Ford. In total, Doug's YouTube channel has been viewed 1.1 million times, but 522,000 of those were for the launch video. Interest appears to have fallen off sharply after that.

Doug received rave reviews from the media. At his launch I said he was "innovative" and "genuinely funny." Adfreak said the campaign included "some real gems." Julie Roehm, a former Chrysler ad chief and a current advertising columnist for Aol, kinda liked it. And Ad Age said the puppet was "likely to be embraced and shared just as much as it is criticized or ignored."

"Ignored" appears to be what's happening. It's tough to think of a marketing initiative from an advertiser of Ford's size, involving creative staff of ad agency Team Ford's caliber (they brought in a director from The Office and a writer from The Simpsons), that has gathered such a miniscule audience.

Barring a miracle, expect Doug to die a quiet death as Ford goes back to traditional car marketing (beauty shots on a clifftop highway with screencaps highlighting that it gets 35 mph or to the gallon or better). In car marketing, no good idea goes unpunished.


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