5:00 p.m., Tuesday, June 26.
I arrive, along with approximately 250 of my soon-to-be very closest friends for the next two days, at Ford Field in Detroit. Yes, where the Detroit Lions play. Ford has brought us here for its second annual "Go Further with Ford" event, variously referred to by the participants as "Go Forward with Ford," "Go Fordward with Ford," "Go Fracking with Ford," and "Don't you know this whole thing is just marketing
?" (For full effect, imagine saying "marketing" in the same tone you might use to say "spam.")
Well, perhaps it is. In fact, it definitely
is. What other purpose could Ford have in flying a bunch of writers, journalists, bloggers, and other social media types to Detroit so they can spend two days learning about Ford's sustainability efforts and playing with cool car tech toys? It's not just because they think we need practice with our social interaction skills ...not that that wasn't very helpful also. It's because they think what they're doing is cool, and they're telling us about it in the hope that we'll agree and tell other people about it. Ideally, that's what marketing is. So yeah, the whole thing was marketing. But unlike spam, there's not necessarily anything fundamentally nefarious about it.
Nevertheless, my fellow conferees and I agree earnestly that although Ford paid our way and is giving us free stuff and taking us to cool places, that will have absolutely no effect
on what we write and say and post and tweet and about Ford. None. We are free agents. We'll come and play with Ford's toys and listen to Ford's experts and tour Ford's facilities, but we are not
drinking any Ford Kool-Aid. How's that for "full disclosure?"5:15 p.m.
Free booze! Whoo-hooooooo!6:00 p.m.
Also, free food! And our dinner speaker is…Bill Ford, CEO! He's not so much a traditional dinner speaker as a dinner interviewee - he's questioned by David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect
and former technology editor at Fortune
magazine. David's tone as interviewer is familiar to anyone who's ever watched winning athletes interviewed on the sidelines or Hollywood stars interviewed on the red carpet: "You've always been just so, so awesome. You've been that way for a long time, and today you've become if anything even more awesome. Speaking as someone who's awesome, tell us: how awesome is it to be you?"
Despite this, Bill comes across as pretty sincere. He tells how, when he first started at Ford years ago, he wanted Ford to become the fuel economy leader and the technology leader in the auto industry, and received responses from the rest of the company ranging from amusement to scorn to hostility. Bill was told, he says, to "immediately cease association with any known or suspected environmentalists." It was a good line, and got a good chuckle. It got perhaps a slightly diminished chuckle when we heard it repeated in a video Bill Ford made, and again when another exec quoted it the next day - but what are you gonna do? A line like that, you don't just use it once. You make it pull its weight.8:00 p.m.
We're taken down to the football field and allowed to walk around, throw footballs, and kick field goals. It's a good thing there's no Kool-Aid down here.7:00 a.m. Wednesday, June 27.
Oh, it's really, really early. Why did I drink all that Kool-Aid last night?8:00 a.m.
We're taken to the "Eco-Psychology" panel, which includes John Fiera from Ford (he's their Global Sustainability Director, and that's only the first of many pretty cool-sounding job titles we're going to hear today); Tim Sexton, who's a social responsibility branding expert; Adrian Grenier and Peter Glatzer, who are filmmakers and the creators of SHFT.com (Adrian is also an actor and the subject a lot
of feminine, and some masculine, gazing and sighing); Liz Heller, who's an entertainment industry bigwig and social media branding expert (co-founder and "chief alchemist," that's her title; and Cher Fischer, who's an eco-psychologist. What does that mean? Cher's glad you asked. "Eco-psychology" means an understanding of the human psyche that includes humanity's relationship with nature. Okey dokey? Good. Now let's get on with sucking up to the handsome actor.
No, that's not fair. There is only a little of that, and perhaps it's unavoidable. I might even have fallen into it myself had Adrian Grenier not said "Man has dominion over the planet, and having that level of control means that we have responsibility as well." Oh, there's nothing wrong with the sentiment. I wholeheartedly agree. It's just that he so clearly had the chance to say "With great power comes great responsibility" and then make a Spider-Man joke, and yet he did not. I just don't understand that choice. It's true what they say, celebrities are different from you and me.
Other than that, this was actually a great panel. We'll be writing more in detail on this topic soon, so I won't get too deeply into the details, except to say that they spoke very openly about creating a brand that makes responsible, sustainable behavior - particularly consumer behavior - beautiful, sexy, and seductive. Adrian alone used the word "beautiful" three times, "seduction" twice, and "sexy," once, which caused a bit of confusion in some sections of the audience.10:00 a.m.
A subset of the "Eco-psychology" session is on sustainable materials, and here we see some stuff that is actually pretty cool. It turns out that Henry Ford had a dream - a dream about making automobile components out of soybeans. Why soybeans, you ask? Because they were there, that's why. Actually, that kind-of is why. Ford was approached by Midwestern farmers who had an excess of soybeans and asked whether he couldn't find some use for them. He eventually built an entire car out of them - sadly, it never caught on. But today, major chunks of the seat cushioning and the lining of some child protective seats are made from soybeans. They're also making dashboard elements from old plastic bottles, and they're working on something they'll make out of discarded dollar bills.10:30 a.m.
Ford has been encouraging us to tweet, and I've begun to feel rather downcast because I am not a professional tweeter. Is that where it's all really happening? I wonder. Am I being left out of the real conversations, the most authentic discussions, the freshest take on everything? Then I glimpse what the girl in front of me is tweeting while the nice Ford lady talks to us about making rubber out of dandelions. "OMG now there's a lady with a voice like Bobby's mom from the cartoon. OMG. Bobby doncha know."
I guess that answers my question.
[Photo: Panelists representing various perspectives about sustainability and ethical consumption shared insights during the Eco-Psychology session of Further with Ford on June 27, 2012. Panelists (from left to right) include: Cher Fischer, author and eco-psychologist; Peter Glatzer, Filmmaker and co-founder of SHFT.com; Adrian Grenier, Actor, Filmmaker and co-founder of SHFT.com; John Viera, Ford Global Director of Sustainability and Vehicle Environmental Matters; Liz Heller, TOMS Shoes; and Tim Sexton, Social Responsibility Brand Development. Photo by: Sam VarnHagen/Ford Motor Co.]