Turn on a TV set almost anywhere around the world about 9 p.m. local time Monday, and chances are a Ford commercial will be on.
The reason? Ford Motor Co., in an unusual stunt, is buying an estimated $10 million of commercial time on dozens of national and pan-regional TV networks -- 40 broadcast and cable channels in the United States alone -- to run a single, two-minute spot.
It is believed to be the most widespread use of one commercial at one time by an advertiser, which will also include showing the spot on two Web sites, www.ford.com and www.broadcast.com.
Ford's ambitious effort to present the commercial to millions of people at the same hour -- known in industry parlance as a roadblock -- is emblematic of the extraordinary steps being taken by major marketers to stand out in a cacophonous, cluttered media landscape.
"One of the beauties of television is its massive, immediate reach," said Jon Mandel, co-managing director of Mediacom in New York, an agency owned by Grey Advertising that buys commercial time and advertising space for marketers like Hasbro, Mars, Oracle and Reebok.
"But because there's now a gazillion channels to watch, reach declines further and further," he added. "I'd call what Ford is doing pretty big."
The emotional commercial is intended to help welcome the millennium and celebrate Ford customers for their diversity. Viewers will hear Charlotte Church, a 13-year-old soprano, sing an uplifting tune, "Just Wave Hello," as they watch footage filmed in nine countries. There are scenes of people of various races and nationalities engaged in everyday activities: arguing with a lover, exercising, bidding a friend goodbye, sightseeing, dancing, working and, of course, watching TV.
All that loving, leaving and living -- presented in an upbeat manner reminiscent of "It's A Small World" or "We Are the World" -- takes place in the presence of Fords, vintage and contemporary. They represent the seven brands the company makes from Aston Martin to Volvo and include a Model T, pickups, a sleek Lincoln, buses, a Jaguar XK8, a 1999 Ford Mustang and a 2000 Ford Focus.
Though the spot is the first to include all the Ford brands, its purpose is less about selling cars and trucks than it is about burnishing Ford's image. The goal: generate warm and fuzzy feelings about Ford as part of the mission of Jacques A. Nasser, the new chief executive, to have consumers perceive Ford as the world's leading company for auto products and services.
"We would like to think our customers and prospective customers would trust the Ford Motor Co.," said Jim Schroer, vice president for global marketing at Ford, "but you can't trust anybody unless you know who they are."
He added: "People know what Ford is, a big automobile manufacturer, but they don't know who Ford is. They don't know we're a company with heart, soul, a passion for their lives."