Ad campaigns illustrated those two features through the most tortuous displays, like climbing pyramids of rubble or four-wheeling through knee-deep mud.
But almost simultaneously, the truck divisions at Ford Motor Co.'s Ford division and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet unit, which together command just over 50% of all compact truck sales, realized a new breed of messages could and should be used to attract today's new generation of truck buyers: young adults, or Generation Xers.
These twentysomethings represented a respectable source of new truck buyers. According to a recently published study by automotive researcher AutoPacific Group, 72% of 18-to-30 year olds say they will consider a sport utility vehicle when they shop for their next car and 57% will consider a pickup. That compares to 57% for sports cars and only 26% for small cars.
But the question remains: how to reach what many marketers believe is that most elusive target, the twentysomethings? The answer, as far as Ford and Chevy are concerned, is to address the lifestyles of Xers, not the toughness of trucks.
Mark Jenkins, assistant manager of strategic truck marketing at Chevrolet, says, "If you look at our ad message, it's mood rather than a single message. .... We want to show that it fits their life-style."
Ford chose to lead with a new product. The company created a new version of its popular Ranger pickup, giving it flares on the fenders, jazzy graphics and a youthful new name: Splash.
These elements fit the life-style of Xers-which turns out to be not much different from the baby boomers of a generation ago. AutoPacific's studies of Generation X find much in common with their boomer siblings. For example, baby busters like to drive fast, drink soda while driving, listen to loud music, follow other vehicles closely, take risks (and admit doing it) and push their vehicles to the limit.
Introduced in late 1993, early Splash ads relied on the youthful look of the vehicle-and its relatively modest starting price of $13,000 ($20,000 loaded)-to sell the truck.
That campaign this year has evolved to give Splash more personality.
Chevy retaliated with two special packages for its S-series compact pickup: The ZR2 version, with an upgraded off-road setup, and the SS model. Both print and TV spots for the ZR2 Extended-Cab pickup are aimed squarely at young men. One spot shows a ZR2 flying over the road and features the telling tagline, "The official pace car of the next generation."
"Lifestyle" is becoming the theme of its compact pickup truck advertising from Lintas Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich. With the all-new S-series, introduced in 1993, Chevy also rethought its ad approach.
"The spots appeal to the aggressive, forward-thinking youth market, with a presumptive attitude that says, `If you're going to drive something cool, this is it'," says William Ludwig, exec creative director at Campbell-Ewald.
The target, in this case, is made up solidly of young adults; fully 44.6% of Chevy's compact truck buyers are under age 35. And 92% of all principal drivers of these trucks are men.
Ford approaches its youth-oriented campaigns more as "lifestage" rather than lifestyle, says Bruce Rooke, creative director at J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, Ford's main agency.
While much has been debated about "the other esoteric stuff, like growing up with MTV," Mr. Rooke says, "it's lifestage-first job, marriage, kids-that hangs consistent from one generation to the next."
The new Splash campaign, started in February, attempts to infuse the vehicle with personality by combining adventuresome sports with the truck.
For example, the first spread features a young surfer shooting the curl in the bed of a Splash parked in the middle of a wheat field. There is minimal copy-just one line listing five features and a new logo.
"We're not saying that the youth of America can't read," Mr. Rooke says. "But they lead active lifestyles and kind of page through magazines like the rest of us. We needed a visual to stop them."