Comedian Denis Leary is crowing about something new in Ford F-150 ads: technology that is meant to make backing up a trailer easier.
The longtime Ford pitchman -- known for his boastful tone -- narrates a new spot that will debut during Fox's NFL coverage on Thanksgiving Day that plugs the truck's "pro trailer backup assist." The feature comes on the new 2016 F-150 and allows drivers to steer a trailer hitched on back using a control knob on the dash, taking the "frustration out of backing up," according to Ford.
Ford's decision to spend part of its ad budget plugging the feature is further proof that technology features are playing an increasing role in auto marketing. An Autotrader survey released last week found that 77% of buyers stated that technological features are more important than the vehicle's color. Also, 65% of those surveyed said they would switch vehicle brands to get all their desired features, which can range from WiFi and streaming music services to cruise control and diagnostic alerts.
"In-vehicle technology ranks increasingly higher for consumers as they consider must-have and desired features in their car shopping," Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for Autotrader, said in a statement. "That puts automakers under intense pressure to anticipate and offer the technologies consumers desire, or they risk losing them to a brand that delivers." But while demand is increasingly driven by tech features, "automakers are just sort of catching up in terms of advertising those aspects," she added in an interview.
The new Ford ad, called "Brainstorm," is the third in a series of spots by WPP's Team Detroit for the F-150 that began airing in September during NFL programming. The other two spots plug more traditional selling points like gas mileage, truck body strength and safety ratings.
The Ford F series is the largest U.S. vehicle brand by sales. Sales grew 3.3% in October and are up 1.5% for the first 10 months of the year.
The ad for the trailer backup assist feature comes two weeks after the Consumer Technology Association included it as a "Best of Innovation Awards" honoree in the vehicle intelligence category.
Towing features are a key driver of truck purchases, said Doug Scott, Ford's truck group marketing manager. Roughly 30% of customers in the light duty truck market are considered frequent towers, meaning they tow once a month or more, he said. The trailer backup assist "really appeals to truck customers" and will benefit from "explanation and demonstration that we can do in a commercial," he said.
Other so-called driver assist tools on the F-150 include "curve control," which automatically reduces torque and applies four-wheel braking if a driver takes a turn too quickly. There is also a "lane-keeping system" that uses cameras to detect lane markings.