Ford targets men in natural habitat

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Ford Motor Co. is using monster-truck jams, rodeos and fake Web sites to reach pickup drivers where they live.

Ford Division's 2005 Super Duty pickup truck will be backed by the brand's biggest digital launch ever, larger even than last year's crucial introduction of its smaller sibling, the F-150. But the pickup will also go to monster-truck events, rodeos, Nascar races and appear as an opening act on country singer Toby Keith's upcoming tour.

The integrated-marketing effort for Super Duty, estimated at $50 million, reflects a growing trend at Ford Division in the past few years to use more nontraditional means to reach customers, said Rich Stoddart, marketing communications manager at Ford Motor Co.'s largest division. He and his team assembled a broad variety of events, partnerships and direct marketing, in addition to traditional media.

online research

The launch plans reflect what Ford learned from the successful year-ago launch of its redone F-150 pickup, said Mr. Stoddard.

Since some 80% of car shoppers do in-depth research online, "you must be there," said Mr. Stoddart. He said the beauty of online advertising and customer relationship management, also a big part of the push, is that return on investments can be measured.

"It's totally accountable," he said. The online spending, which he declined to reveal, includes banner ads on auto shopping and information sites such as edmunds.com and kbb.com. The online blitz starts Sept. 9, when Ford gets a 24-hour roadblock on major sports sites including nfl.com, sportingnews.com and espn.com.

WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson, Detroit, created humorous strip ads that will run on the bottom part of pages in national and regional newspapers. The ads have no Ford branding, but feature Web site addresses, such as towslikeamutha.com or towslikeabeast.com, that link to the automaker's Web site, fordvehicles.com.

Ford also produced a three-minute video for its pitchman, Mr. Keith, which will air at the start of concerts on his "Big Throwdown Tour." Ford expects more than a million people to attend the concerts.

`this is about testosterone'

Ford's Super Duty competes with just three other trucks: versions of General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet Silverado, sibling GMC Sierra, and Chrysler Group's Dodge Ram. None of the marketers break down sales of the vehicles in their full-size pickup sales. The macho work truck, also used for towing outdoor boy's toys, accounts for some 40% of all F-Series pickup sales.

The category is important to the industry because "it's the work segment" that offers expensive equipment and has great margins, said Jim Sanfilippo, exec VP of Omnicom Group's auto consultancy AMCI.

"Those trucks bear the burden of a lot of commerce in this country," he said. "These are not girlie trucks. This is about testosterone."

That's one reason Ford's Super Duty will have a large presence on TV pro football programming, including ad time on ABC's NFL season kickoff, sponsorship of the Pre-Game Show on Fox with in-studio signage, and every game on CBS. J. Walter Thompson created a series of :30 commercials that show how the truck was improved in the lab and translate it to real-world use.

As sponsor of the Professional Bullriders Tour, Ford will run ads on the big screen at rodeos and stage the "Payload Challenge" during intermission. Attendees will try to load as much into the back of the Super Duty as they can in two minutes.

Ford also extended its partnership with Nascar-more than 60% of fans are truck owners. A sweepstakes offers a tricked-out, official Nascar Super Duty as the top prize. Print ads, linked to the last 10 races in the series, will start in a few weeks for the promotion, and Ford will advertise during race broadcasts.

The Super Duty's Blue Thunder model will compete at "Monster Jam" events, joining the special Towing Beast model to haul smashed trucks out of the dirt arenas.

retail partners

"There's sometimes a little skepticism with advertising, so we're really using this to demonstrate the truck's capabilities," Mr. Stoddart said.

The marketer partnered with two retailers, Home Depot and hunting and fishing outfitter Cabela's. The Super Duty will be displayed at Home Depot and Cabela's stores and featured on Cabela's Web site, cabelas.com, and catalog.

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