Ford F-150 NFL ads are back, pal, but Denis Leary is AWOL
Denis Leary, a nearly ubiquitous presence in Ford’s F-150 National Football League advertising, was nowhere to be found during opening weekend, raising questions about his future with the pickup truck brand. The actor’s testosterone-fueled voiceovers for F-150 ads have been a mainstay in the automaker’s marketing arsenal since debuting in 2008.
But during games last weekend Ford instead folded F-150 ads into its broader “Built Ford Proud” campaign from Wieden & Kennedy New York, voiced by Bryan Cranston. An ad for the pickup running during last weekend’s NFL games (above) was set to the "1812 Overture" with Cranston plugging the F-150’s towing muscle.
Ford in a statement to Ad Age said: “We continue to partner with Denis Leary and at the same time we are aligning the current F-150 campaign with Built Ford Proud to provide greater consistency across the Ford Brand.”
But a spokeswoman was not able to provide details about when and where Leary would show up for the pickup truck. She confirmed he last appeared in an ad called “Big Dog.” The ad last ran on April 21, according to TV ad tracking service iSpot. The spokeswoman also said Leary appeared in ads for Ford dealers that ran in the first quarter.
Cranston’s ads for Ford are boastful, but several notches below the aggression level of Leary’s ads, in which he barked at viewers using phrases like “look,” “hey,” or “pal,” while appealing to the manhood of truck buyers. As The Ringer remarked in its 2017 ranking of Leary’s Ford ads, he “sacks up, hits you with some uncomfortable truths, and extends an invitation for you to ditch your sorry-ass life and join the club of real men who drive Ford trucks. Because, goddammit, that’s what a man does.”
WPP's Team Detroit had previously handled all Ford ads, including Leary’s spots, before Wieden & Kennedy was brought on last year in an agency shake-up that relegated WPP to lower profile work.
Any changes in the marketing of the F-150 are significant because the so-called F series is Ford’s top-selling and most lucrative vehicle line. The F series accounted for 448,398 vehicle sales for the first 6 months of 2019, down slightly from 451,138 the year prior, according to Automotive News.
That Leary's absence is notable is largely a function of his seeming ubiquity on NFL Sundays. Not only had the actor been doing the voiceovers for the Ford truck line since 2008, but the automaker itself is a highly visible backer of the league's broadcast partners. Now in its fourth season as the official truck sponsor of the NFL, Ford in 2018 spent some $118.6 million on in-game inventory, making it one of the league's top five advertisers, per iSpot.tv estimates.
With the lion's share of its in-game spots airing in Fox's NFL coverage, that investment puts the Ford brand in front of some of America's largest TV audiences. The Fox national Sunday afternoon window has been the highest-rated TV program for the last 10 years; according to Nielsen, the network's eight-game package last season averaged 22.2 million viewers and a 12.8 household rating.
Having aired three spots in Sunday's Giants-Cowboys showdown, Ford is on pace to draw the NFL's biggest audience since Super Bowl LIII. While the final ratings won't be in until Tuesday morning, Fox's first national window of the season averaged a 15.9 overnight rating, up 3 percent vs. the year-ago 15.5. (That metered-market rating for last season's Cowboys-Panther opener translated to 23.3 million viewers and a 13.1 HH rating in the official live-plus-same-day rankings.)
Below, a look back at some old Leary ads.