CHEVY, FORD PICKUPS HAUL OUT NEW MOVES;F-SERIES AD TOUT REDESIGN WHILE C/K SIGNS UP TO SPONSOR TOUR BY GEORGE STRAIT

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With Ford riding into Super Bowl XXX with tough cowboy actor Jack Palance for its F-150 pickup, Chevrolet is countering by taking title sponsorship of country singer George Strait's 50-city concert tour that began Jan. 18 and runs into November.

Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division's 60-second Super Bowl spot from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, is part of an estimated $60 million introduction for the redesigned '97 F-150. Under fire for the lackluster launches of the Contour in 1994 and the redesigned Taurus sedan last fall, Ford is determined to keep its F-series fullsize pickup on top as the best-selling vehicle in the U.S.

`TOUGH' COMEBACK

Because the redesigned pickup has a more rounded, sculpted look and a more carlike interior, Ford wants to reassure buyers that it's still a rugged workhorse. That's also a reason Ford has brought back the ad theme line, "Built Ford tough" (AA, Dec. 11), replacing "The best never rest."

The closest competition to Ford is General Motor Corp.'s Chevrolet C/K fullsize pickup, the model Mr. Strait will represent.

In all, the F-series claimed a 40.9% share of the 1,690,000 unit fullsize pickup segment last year, while the C/K won a 31.8% share.

STRAIT AHEAD

Because of plant capacity restraints, Chevrolet probably can't close the 155,000-unit gap with Ford this year. But Chevy believes the association with Mr. Strait will help it build long-term brand equity with country music fans, said Bill Ames, national merchandising manager.

"Relationship marketing and affinity marketing are a great way to appeal to truck buyers, who tend to have very active life-styles," Mr. Ames said.

Sponsorship of Mr. Strait's tour continues Chevy Trucks' association with personalities who embody the dependability and durability expressed by the ad theme, "Like a rock," created by Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich.

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