At the moment, Ford's ad is the No. 1 banner on the Net, according to a report released Thursday by AdRelevance, a Jupiter Media Metrix company.
Ford's message is simple. The blue-and-white banner reads, "For official Ford news on the Firestone recall, click here." Clicking on the ad leads a visitor to Ford's Web site with information about the recall. It is the only ad in the campaign and has appeared on more than 200 Web sites since Ford launched the message in August.
"They are pinning everything on this one ad," said Charles Buchwalter, vice president of media research at AdRelevance. "Most online advertisers take advantage of the Web by putting multiple ads out there. Ford's idea is a pretty good one. They really want to get the message out over and over again that (they) care and want to tell you the truth."
The ads come as Ford battles a ruling by a California state court in Oakland, which on Wednesday ordered a recall of 1.7 million Ford trucks and cars because of an alleged faulty engine part. The order came after another probe involving the automaker's popular Explorer sports utility and Firestone tires used on the truck.
On Sept. 18, Bridgestone-Firestone recalled 6.5 million Firestone tires, many of them installed on the Explorer, after charges that sudden tread separations caused about 150 deaths. Ford recorded more than 50 million impressions of its ad in the week after the recall was announced.
Bridgestone-Firestone has not followed Ford's lead in the online ad campaign, the study shows.
AdRelevance's Buchwalter said he believes more companies will use the Web not to advertise a particular product, but instead to publicize a message.
"We're seeing a trend toward more focus-branding type of ads," he said. "Instead of ads that say 'come to my site' or 'buy something,' we'll be seeing ads that have a different purpose."