The Edsel, or how not to do marketing

This is a 1960 Edsel,  and it doesn’t look anything like the car you associate with that name, right?

Of course not, you think of this when you think Edsel. That huge grille that sparked controversy is like the stamp of failure. Before Coke II, there was the Edsel as a synonym of commercial disaster.

The Edsel wasn’t a bad car per se. It was built in Ford plants by Ford employees, thus supposedly making the Edsel every bit as reliable as a Ford or a Mercury of the time. However, most of them arrived at the dealership unfinished and they were complicated to work on.

It’s considered one of the epitomes of marketing failure, so of course they started with the quintessential marketing mistake: overhyping your product.

It may seem hard to believe, but before it was launched the Edsel generated a huge amount of hype. No one outside of Ford knew what the car would look like until release day. It was publicized as a revolutionary vehicle and introduction day gave us The Edsel Show, an hour long special to promote the car which was shown on CBS and was a huge success. Needless to say, everyone was sorely disappointed when the final product came out. Customers don’t react that well to being disappointed, which reflected on the Edsel’s sales.

Another mistake: the pricing. The Idea was that it would shoe in between Ford and Mercury. Tricky stuff, considering that the difference between the top-of-the-line Ford Fairlane and the base Mercury Medalist was about $140. Edsel ended up with Mercury-priced cars in the middle of a recession that offered nowhere near as much innovation as expected and had a design that some people likened to female genitalia.

In 1959, the Edsel was merged to the platform of similar-sized Fords instead of their own, while the controversial design was modified but still kept the toilet seat grille. And by 1960, they moved to the more traditional styling shown at the beginning of this article, but the damage was already done. 1960 was the last year of the Edsel, with about 84,000 cars sold.

Pricing the Edsel cheaper wouldn’t have worked either. Since they did their best to remove all traces of Ford from it, who would pick that new boy Edsel when they could buy the Ford that was sold right there beside it? It was an overall failure.

The Edsel simply had no reason to exist, but it actually introduced some innovative features, like electronic hood release, transmission lock, and a speedometer that warned you when the preset speed limit was exceeded.

So you see, the car was to blame with shoddy build quality, an engine that was difficult to work with and with being just the wrong car for the time (By its 1960 demise, the Volkswagen Beetle was enjoying more success than the Edsel in the US), but with hopeless mistakes that made its marketing a study case for people on marketing courses when watching common mistakes to be avoided.

Image Credits (Top to bottom)

Image 1: Roadsidepictures / CC BY-NC 2.0

Image 2 and 3: Adam Minter (1) (2) / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Image 4: John Lloyd / CC BY 2.0

Image 5: Mike Mertz / CC BY-NC 2.0

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