Penske Seeks Starring Roles for Its Rental Trucks

Screen Time on DIY Shows Also Has Helped Boost Employee Morale

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The deal: Penske Truck Rental is starting to place its moving trucks into TV shows and movies as a way to compete with rivals such as U-Haul, Ryder and Budget.

The result: The company's bright-yellow trucks' presence on-screen has helped Penske boost awareness for its business, as well as employee moral.

Penske Truck Rental has moved itself into branded entertainment.
This fall, Penske's trucks will be used by three families moving their households in TLC's 'Moving Up.'

The Reading, Pa.-based company, which operates a fleet of moving trucks around the world, has begun scouting for opportunities in TV shows and films to showcase its vehicles and its do-it-yourself service.

Penske's trucks recently appeared on an episode of NBC's "The Apprentice," although it didn't sponsor the task in the show. It was also featured for the third year as part of the "Today" show's "Lend a Hand" program, in which Al Roker and the NBC team used donated Penske trucks to deliver materials to charities in five cities.

Penske currently appears in Fine Living's "Catalog This," and this fall, its trucks will be used by three families moving their households in TLC's "Moving Up."

Trucks spotted on reality shows

Penske Truck Rental, a division of Penske Truck Leasing, decided to start pursuing entertainment as a marketing tool after spotting its trucks in various reality shows -- especially those shot in New York. On several occasions, Penske trucks could be seen driving down the street in the background.

"They just happened to be there," said Sherry Sanger, VP-marketing, Penske Truck Rental. "It really helped us recognize that there's an opportunity."

But Penske now wants its trucks to be more front-and-center.

"We're shifting from having the truck in the background to showcasing the value we provide customers and the services that differentiate us," Ms. Sanger said.

The way its trucks look have helped land placements.

Penske's fleet of 216,000 trucks, vans, trailers and other equipment, which range from 10 to 26 feet in length, are painted bright yellow with "Penske" written on the front and sides in black. And while rival rental companies often have older or battered trucks on the road, Penske said it replaces its vehicles every three years.

"Our trucks typically tend to show pretty well," Ms. Sanger said.

Already a presence on the set

Getting productions interested in using the trucks on-screen wasn't too difficult. Film and TV shoots in Los Angeles, New York and elsewhere already have been using the vehicles to transport film and other equipment to locations and sets. Having them on the sets evolved into having them appear on camera.

"The trucks are already there," Ms. Sanger said. "They're already being used. It made things much easier."

Penske declined to provide specifics on how much the number of rentals may have grown as a result of its TV appearances, but executives said the company did see an uptick in some markets as a result.

"It depends on the market," Ms. Sanger said. "We've been fortunate that demand has gone up in general."

The placements also have had an additional effect.

Big morale booster

"Internally, it really is a big employee moral booster," said Randy Ryerson, communications manager for Penske. "It definitely helps get people fired up. It gets people into taking care of the trucks and making sure our public image is handled well and treated well."

As a result, Penske is actively pursuing future opportunities in both TV and film. The company is looking for projects with people who are do-it-yourself movers and programs with a do-it-yourself attitude. It's not opposed to scripted fare; it's currently considering several projects, including an independent film.

"We're looking for opportunities where it's a really good fit with who's using the truck and how it's being used," Mr. Ryerson said.

Penske does not yet have a product-placement company seeking out placement deals on its behalf.

So far, deals have been brokered on a trade-out basis in lieu of publicity exposure, the company said.

"For the right opportunity, we might consider a paid placement," Mr. Ryerson said.

Automakers have long landed prime product placements in entertainment. But Penske's move to use entertainment as a marketing tool comes as an increasing number of productions are utilizing vans, trucks and even larger vehicles on sets.

Rivals make leap to screen

Penske's rivals, such as U-Haul, Ryder and Budget Rent-a-Truck, already have appeared in a number of TV shows and movies over the years. More recently, delivery services like FedEx and UPS have pursued product placements and tie-ins, with DHL becoming the latest to land a role, a prominent appearance in Paramount Pictures' "Mission: Impossible III."

The placements so far have helped Penske increase interest among consumers and Hollywood's production community.

"We're starting to see more and more requests come in over the last six months," Ms. Sanger. "It's building on itself as we get more screen credit and people see how our trucks are being used."
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