How the Ford Explorer, an SUV pioneer, is trying to stay ahead in the cluttered utility vehicle market
For one of its most important vehicle launches of the year, Ford is going to outer space and back. A new ad for the redesigned 2020 Explorer shows an astronaut returning to earth and using the SUV to pick up his kids from school. The ad, by Wieden & Kennedy New York, is among three new TV spots for the vehicle that will get heavy media support, including during National Football League games.
The marketing investment comes as Ford fends off stiff competition in the SUV segment. The Explorer helped usher in the SUV boom when it debuted in 1991. But today, the high-riding vehicles are everywhere as buyers continue to abandon traditional family sedans.
Andy Georgescu, Ford’s corporate advertising communications manager, says the Explorer remains the “most iconic nameplate in the SUV world" but concedes that “it is harder to stand out.”
The new campaign aims to separate Explorer from the pack with highly produced ads that juxtapose extreme adventures with daily living. One ad shows a marine biologist on a remote job site, finishing with her using the Explorer for a family frozen yogurt run. Another ad features an Arctic explorer and her canine team. It ends with her taking the dogs to a pet spa. (See them both below.)
“We connect this idea of big exploration through occupation and big exploration in everyday moments with the family,” Georgescu says. The ads, he says, are aimed at standing out from other SUV marketing, which he described as “indistinguishable.” They “are all sort of in one way or another speaking to a family-of-four out on the open road heading to the Grand Canyon or some open vista.”
The Explorer ads are narrated by Bryan Cranston, whom Ford has been using as the voice of its larger “Built Ford Proud” marketing platform. In the astronaut ad, he nods to the Explorer’s heritage with a boastful claim describing it as “the SUV you think of when you think of an SUV.” He ends all of the ads by proclaiming the SUV as “the greatest exploration vehicle of all-time.”
While that is debatable, the importance of the Explorer to Ford’s bottom line is not. It is the automaker’s third-best-selling U.S. nameplate, behind the F series and Escape, according to Automotive News, which has reported that the Explorer is also “believed to be one of the most profitable vehicles in the company's lineup.”
The 2020 model was redesigned from the ground up, according to Ford, which describes its rear-wheel-drive architecture as enabling a “sportier, more athletic design, improved on- and off-road capability and 600 pounds more in maximum towing capacity when properly equipped.”