Growth and Death


Harry Ferguson was born on this day in 1884.  He was born into a world of horse powered agriculture.  Two great leaps forward occurred in agricultural practices during WW1 and then again in WW2.

Ferguson began his career in engineering with aircraft.  He was the first Irish man to build a plane and the first to fly a plane.  He moved from aircraft to tractors just before the outbreak of the Great War.  All through the war he was developing ideas for ways to attach a plough to the tractor.

In the early 1920s he presented his ideas on the three point linkage to that other great Irish engineer, Henry Ford.  Together they created the Fordson.  Ferguson went on to build his own tractors and incorporated his designs into David Browns and Massey Fergusons.

When the second great agricultural leap forward came during WW2 it was powered by tractors designed by Harry Ferguson.  His work revolutionised agricultural production and allowed for the radical improvements in output per acre that originated during WW2.  By the end of the war Britain was able to feed itself.

After the war these innovations were rolled out to the world and sparked the prosperity of the “Swinging Sixties”.

Harry Ferguson never saw the 1960’s.  He died at the beginning of the decade after years of legal battles with Henry Ford II over the illegal use of his patents.  The legal battles cost him half his fortune and all his health and was unsuccessful in restricting Fords use of his work.

If Ferguson represents an era of Growth we can see in the poem below that Williams has experienced an era of Death, Murder, Famine and Dictatorship.  Born in 1936, on this day, Charles Kenneth Williams lived through those swinging sixties.  But he saw the rise of tin pot dictator after dictator pillage country after country in Asia, Africa, South & Central America.  Much of it carried out under the cloak of U.S. Foreign Policy.

Today on the news we see thousands of troops sent to the US Mexican Border.  Donald Trump is addressing voters for the upcoming mid term elections.  He uses the language of the demagogue.  He sounds like another tin pot dictator.  He says his troops will shoot at any migrants who throw stones.  He says that the Democrats want to invite “Caravan after Caravan” of migrants over the border.  When Republicans speak about Democrats they describe them as Communists or Socialists.  From here in Europe the Democrats come over as far right liberals.  We would see them as right wing extremists.  It is hilarious to describe a club of multi-millionaire politicians as socialists.  It is, frankly, an insult to socialism.

The future of the planet lies in sustainability.  Humans must live within our means or we will become extinct.  Politicians who, like Donald Trump, deny climate change are doing so because they are trading personal greed against public good.  They know the world is full of short term thinking greedy people.

The failure of democratic American style politics to plan beyond the next election is the major barrier to long term sustainable planning.  When Harry Ferguson was designing his first tractors during WW1 American saw itself, and was, the saviour of the Western World.  Roll the clock forward 100 years and today, 2018 the USA is the worlds greatest problem.


Zebra; by Charles Kenneth Williams

Kids once carried tin soldiers in their pockets as charms
against being afraid, but how trust soldiers these days
not to load up, aim, blast the pants off your legs?

I have a key-chain zebra I bought at the Thanksgiving fair.
How do I know she won’t kick, or bite at my crotch?
Because she’s been murdered, machine-gunned: she’s dead.

Also, she’s a she: even so crudely carved, you can tell
by the sway of her belly a foal’s inside her.
Even murdered mothers don’t hurt people, do they?

And how know she’s murdered? Isn’t everything murdered?
Some dictator’s thugs, some rebels, some poachers;
some drought, world-drought, world-rot, pollution, extinction.

Everything’s murdered, but still, not good, a dead thing
in with your ID and change. I fling her away, but the death
of her clings, the death of her death, her murder, her slaughter.

The best part of Thanksgiving Day, though—the parade!
Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, Kermit the Frog, enormous as clouds!
And the marching bands, majorettes, anthems and drums!

When the great bass stomped its galloping boom out
to the crowd, my heart swelled with valor and pride.
I remembered when we saluted, when we took off our hat.

Marketing Disaster


On this day in 1959 the Ford Motor Company announced that it was discontinuing the Edsel.  It was the greatest disaster in US automobile history.  The Edsel did not even sell half the volume required to break even on the investment.

There are hundreds, and I mean literally hundreds, of theories as to why the line failed.  There is a lot of talk about styling, the horse-collar grille that was mocked at the time for looking like someone sucking a lemon, and was likened to a vulva.

Others contextualise the failure in terms of the late 1950’s economic downturn, which may have played a part.  The car market was contracting, not a great time to introduce a new marque.

There is a lot of material on the internal politics of the organisation, and how the divisions were competing with each other.  Also how Robert McNamara was a Ford purist, and disliked the proliferation of brands.  There is criticism that Henry Ford II was just not the man his father was.  Of course he wasn’t, Ford was now a public company, not a personal fiefdom!

For me the failure comes down to marketing, and to the most simple, basic aspects of marketing.


The company did not test the designs with real customers.  They promised an all new singing and dancing product, but built it on existing models.  When the public eventually saw the product they could see nothing new or special or unique about it.  If anything it looked dated.

They never got the positioning right.  In the customers mind there was no compelling reason why you should buy an Edsel.  These days the positioning of the product comes very early in the development process.  Positioning will determine price, which determines cost, which determines features and benefits.  For Fords the product positioning appeared to be an afterthought, after it failed.


The pricing strategy for Ford was to move the Lincoln Brand, and the Continental in particular, upmarket to compete with Cadillac.  This was the right strategy and proved itself over time.

They then needed to create space between the Mercury brand, in the more luxury mid-range, and the Ford brand in the value range, to make space for the Edsel.  They did not get this balance right.

For instance, a full spec Ford brand, with all bells and whistles, should have retailed at more than the most basic Edsel.  Instead it was cheaper, making the Edsel seem very expensive.

More damaging still was the fact that most of the Edsels were priced to compete with Mercury, so if Edsel was successful it ran the risk of caniballising the Mercury brand with a slightly cheaper model.  This set up tensions between the dealerships, and the internal product managers.

Customers did not know if the Edsel was supposed to be more or less premium than Mercury.  When customers doubt, they avoid.


Edsel initially sold through a network of less than 1,200 dealers, in a market where GM dominated with 16,000 and both Ford and Chrysler had 10,000.  When the car was not selling these Edsel dealers immediately took on extra marques, diluting the offering.


The search for the Name of the Edsel is symptomatic of the problems that were going on.  They tried to come up with a name internally, with no success.  Initally it was called the E car, for Experimental.  They hired an ad agency to generate a name.  Foote, Cone & Belding came up with 6,000 names.  Fords commented that they paid for a name, not for 6,000.  Edsel was not a front running name in the report!  At a board meeting (not the place to choose names) the name Edsel was chosen to honour the father of Henry Ford II and son of the great Henry Ford.  Henry Junior hated it (he was absent from the meeting).

The company promised something new and exciting.  The build-up advertising was a teaser campaign, which showed blurred shots of the car, or small detail shots.  The cars were delivered to dealerships wrapped in paper to conceal them until the last moment.  When they were unveiled it was to a sigh of disappointment.  All build up and no bang!

Every Cloud has a Silver Lining

The 1960 Edsel Comet was quickly reworked and launched under the Mercury Brand as an entry level Mercury (where Edsel should have been).  The plant set up for Edsel was retooled to produce the Ford Falcon series of cars which proved to be a great success for the company.

One clear lesson

Begin with positioning.  Know your USP, the unique sales proposition, why anyone should choose this product over all the others in the market!  If you don’t have a USP, go back to the drawing board.

If you want examples, Honda have a brilliant strategy which focuses on the quality of the engine.  Toyota focus on reliability.  And here is an interesting notion from Subaru.  Clearly aimed at brand loyalists!