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Ford Motor Co. has embraced social media. In a keynote breakfast address Wednesday at the Chicago Auto Show, Jim Farley, Ford's vice-president of global marketing, said the auto company has learned a lot about how to effectively employ social media with the introduction of a new Ford Explorer that is manufactured in Chicago.

"It is a great example of how a company with a new marketing model is able to do things we have never done before," Farley said.

Farley also said Ford's approach to marketing the new model Explorer has helped debunk the thinking that Detroit is not open to new ideas.

Ford decided against introducing the new Explorer via a traditional television ad campaign. Instead, seven months before the first Explorer was sold, Ford started a conversation with fans of the sport utility vehicle on Facebook.

Ford wound up with nearly 140,000 fans of the new Explorer. The customer feedback from those tens of thousands of Facebook fans helped the auto maker develop the subsequent print and TV campaigns for the Ford Explorer launch. That ad campaign focuses on the American family and the theme of the "great American road trip."

Farley said Ford's new social media marketing efforts have made the company think differently about marketing. "First we start early, and we're flexible in the direction the campaign can take," Farley said. "We allow the customer to influence everything, but we need to be relevant and authentic," he added.

Toward that end, Ford announced Wednesday it is launching an interactive promotion called "Explorer -- Go. Do. Adventures." Ford is asking consumers to tell the company how they would use the Explorer to create a dream road trip. Ford will film several of the best submissions and create commercials from them, as well as an hour-long TV show.

Farley also referenced other ways Ford is using social media. The company posted a 10-minute video of auto racer Ken Block racing the Ford Fiesta on YouTube. The video has gotten 26 million views so far. "The Fiesta Movement really brought digital and social media to life for us," Farley said.

Ford is also behind a new five-week, interactive reality show broadcast on Hulu called "Focus Rally: America." Six pairs of people were selected to complete tasks around the country using technology features of the Focus.

The new show was introduced in a TV commercial before last Sunday's Super Bowl. Each of the participants in the rally will get $10,000 to donate to a charity of their choice. Farley cited research that said Americans wish more companies would support good causes.

Farley also predicted mobile devices would become an important marketing device. "Mobile phone advertising can be a great way to connect with someone one-to-one," Farley said.

Farley closed his speech by saying it is important for companies like Ford to "continue to explore new, forward-thinking" marketing solutions. "We are not just a car company, we are a technology company," Farley said.

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Lewis Lazare has written the Media Mix column for the Chicago Sun-Times for the past seven and a half years.

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