And now for something completely different. At about this time every week we put 2018 on hold for a little while and take a peek into the past. Yeah, there’s been some bad stuff, but as we saw last week with the Citroen GS, there’s been plenty of good stuff. Today, though, it’s time for something weird.
What we have here is a somewhat unique promotional item for the fifth-generation Ford Fiesta of 2003, and up until I saw it on eBay I had absolutely no idea such a thing existed. Fortunately, nobody else seemed to be in the least bit tempted, so I secured it with a bid of £1.17 in case it was interesting. And I reckon it is. Judge for yourself after the jump, and welcome back to The Carchive.
All images can be enlarged so you can follow the adventure of Justin, Rick, Charlie, Anna and Jimmy
“Justin looked out of his window and stared longingly at his all-new Ford Fiesta parked on the driveway.
‘What a jolly super day — first rate for an adventure!’ he said. Just then, he had an idea. He picked up the telephone and called his old chum Rick.
‘I say Rick old stick, fancy a day at the beach?’
‘Rather!’ replied Rick”
These days, the Enid Blyton ‘Famous Five’ books are making a bit of a comeback, albeit in a knowingly adult-oriented way, with such titles as ‘Five go on a strategy away day’. It could be argued, then, that this little hardback promotional oddity was over a decade ahead of it’s time.
And releasing this whimsical little diversion was interesting thinking on the part of Ford, which around 2003 was a company that, well, could be accused of having recently lost their sense of fun. The late ’90s had been something of a high point, with the innovative first-generation Focus representing a sea-change from the appallingly outdated and uncompetitive Ford Escort, the ’96 Ford Ka which pretty much redefined the ‘really small’ car in a way unseen since the ’59 Mini, and the Ford Puma, which was physically impossible to drive without smiling like a Canadian in South Park.
Alas, a few years after the Millennium ticked over, Ford was in short supply of mojo.
“They decided to take the winding country road and set off again towards the beach.
‘Rick, do you want to drive for a while?’, asked Justin
‘That’s jolly decent of you. Thanks old stick’ replied Rick.
‘Woof woof,’ barked Jimmy.”
On the face of it, the Enid Blyton theme actually seems a slightly strange choice. While the ironic latest releases are lapped up by Millennials who appreciate the dry wit and knowing parody today’s ‘Five go’ books serve up, around 2002 few Generation Y kids would appreciate what Ford was getting at.
What’s more, with a minimum driving age of 17 in the UK, the four human heroes of this little story could well have been depicted as teenagers, which would have at least loosely tallied with Blyton’s stories of school-age chums getting involved in unexpected scrapes. Instead, though, Justin, Rick, Charlie and Emma look to be at least in their mid-20s, and perhaps a bit older than that. In 2003, I’d question whether an audience that age would really ‘get’ the reference.
“At last they arrived at the beach.
‘This looks a grand spot for a picnic,’ said Justin
‘What’s for lunch Anna?’ asked Charlie.
‘Ham and turkey sandwiches, bags of lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, heaps of tomatoes and… lashings of ginger beer’ “.
So, although early Millennials might not quite ‘get’ what was going on here, their parents probably would. Any child of the 50s or 60s would absolutely understand what was going on here, and would find this little parcel from Ford a pleasant, albeit shallow, distraction. They might even appreciate it as a friendly gesture from the firm — the kind of thing that painted ford as a benevolent and kindly provider of family transportation with a cosy dealership on every street, rather than a profit-hungry multinational organisation with a very keen marketing department.
Unfortunately, anybody able to keep their naivety even vaguely in check can see this as the cynical exercise it really is, and the painful thing is that Ford could so easily have made this little booklet into something genuinely charming.
The four human characters, vaguely 1950s attire aside, look entirely like normal Fiesta-buying folk of the early 21st century, and that nearly works in a ‘not quite reality’ kind of way. Wouldn’t it have been infinitely more charming, though, if the characters had been hand drawn like Blyton’s five, rather than photographically superimposed onto hand-drawn backgrounds? I would probably have used drawn characters interacting with a genuine, photographically depicted car, for an emphasised ‘real car in a fantasy world’ effect. I reckon that could have worked quite well.
And then there’s the presentation. I have to assume that Ford deliberately wanted to retain an alignment between this and their conventional car brochures, because both are presented in exactly the same font. But I don’t reckon that association needed to be made. Were Ford to have presented this in a manner more like those original adventure books, this would look like a cunning re-imagining of Blyton’s world, rather than a shallow pastiche of it. Again, a look at ‘Five go to rehab’ or any of the post-2012 comedy ‘continuations’ to see it done properly.
“The fun starts here. If you could do with a bit more fun in your life, call 0845 7111 888 to order a brochure or book a test drive”
Alas, the fifth-generation Fiesta was actually less fun to drive than its predecessor. It was somehow more mature in feel — far classier and more grown-up than before, but somehow missing that sense of mischief that made its underpinnings suit use in the Ka and Puma so remarkably well. It was unarguably a better car, but somehow rather more boring. Rather like the 2000-on Mondeo was, and the 2004-on Focus would be. This was Ford attempting to ‘go premium’, and while perception of quality did make forward strides, it did feel rather like the product range was having all the joy squeezed out of it.
And that final double page, demanding that you get yourself down to the Ford dealer quick sharp to buy some product, is delivered without any irony at all.
In fact, this whole production starkly reflects the frame of mind Ford was in at the time. The company still remembered what fun was, but didn’t quite seem to know how to actually have it.
(All images are of original manufacturer’s publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of Ford, who make the Fiesta ST — arguably the most exciting small fast hatchback you can drive — but still somewhat on the serious side. Bring back the days of laid-back Fords in which you could have good, clean fun without pushing the performance envelope)