To promote its 2017 Escape SUV this past week in New York City, Ford (F) - Get Report debuted its own version of "Escape the Room," the popular experiential game that requires players to solve puzzles. As part of the mad-dash mash-up of a scavenger hunt and brain teasers, Ford also had teams of up to four drive to different "room" set-ups around Moynihan Station that participants would have to escape by cracking riddles.
The clues, unsurprisingly, were uniformly either about Ford or the 2017 Ford Escape's features. Ford's stated mission for the game was "to create a new way to demonstrate the new technology on the Ford Escape." However, the real reason for the "Escape the Room" immersive game seems clear: it's an attempt on Ford's part to attract a Millennial audience that has largely been M.I.A. in the auto market.
Everything about this version of "Escape the Room" suggested a clear target audience of younger buyers: the top-40 music playing at the registration station, the emphasis on employing smartphone technology to operate the Ford Escape, the young cast of actors who helped guide the players through the game and the hashtag #FordEscape that players were encouraged to use when they shared pictures and videos from the game. The attempt to attract Gen Y attention was, by and large, successful. Pre-registration for the game sold out within the first 24 hours, and when this reporter visited the scene, most of the crowd was under the age of 35.
However, it is not a given that Ford gamers will become Ford buyers, and indeed, it may be difficult to justify the cost of a large, expensive game like this in the bigger picture. While some of the features used during the game are undeniably attractive to potential car-buyers--such as the enhanced active park assist, which can parallel park for the driver--the blatant flaunting of the Escape's technology is bound to come off as overzealous to a generally wary Millennial crowd.
It doesn't help that Millennials are driving in fewer and fewer numbers. University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute recently reported that the percentage of 20- to 24-year-olds getting their driver's licenses has declined steadily throughout the past 30 years, dropping to 76.7% in 2014. Increasingly, Millennials are moving to cities where cars are not necessary, and the price of buying a personal vehicle in the age of car-sharing programs and Uber is becoming increasingly untenable -- especially for a demographic largely saddled by student loans. While a big event-game like "Escape the Room" might capture the attention of people in their 20s, it is unlikely to make them seriously reevaluate their decision on owning a car.
Not even a clever marketing ploy like this experience is going to help Ford escape its own tanking stock price. The auto company has had a tough go as of late, with U.S. sales decreasing by 6% in May and its stock decreasing 19% year-over-year. While "Escape the Room" may have been an attention-grabber, it will likely not give Ford the momentum to reverse its current misfortunes. The company's
may be the return to relevance Ford needs, but until that takes off, investors should buckle in their seatbelts, as it may be a bumpy ride.