Same Ad Strategies Bring Different Results

Ad Audit: Ford vs. Suzuki Crossovers

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NEW YORK ( -- It isn't often that the Ad Audit gets a chance to have two competitive ads on the exact same strategy. In ads for their "crossover" vehicles, Ford and Suzuki tout five-star safety ratings. One execution is good (could be even better), but the other is near perfect, indeed a rarity.
Ford Ad
Ford Taurus X
Category Potential Score % of Category
Headline 25.00 24.31 97.25
Visual Impact 27.50 26.10 94.90
Copy 25.00 22.94 91.75
Consumer Appeal 22.50 22.05 98.00
Total 100.00
© Grayson Associates 2007

Print is the medium to perfect the execution of your marketing strategy. It gives the reader a chance to digest and recall a lot of information well after the 30 seconds are up. Print is especially important when differentiating product features to help the persuasion factor (as long as you don't go overboard). With the plethora of special-interest magazines, it is possible to direct a specific message to a very targeted audience, if the budget allows for that kind of sharpened execution potential. If not, the more generic the message, the more readily it can appear in a larger span of titles. The ad will work hardest when each section (headline, visual impact, copy and consumer appeal) is on strategy. When evaluating an ad, if the strategy doesn't come through loud and clear to you, how can you expect the consumer to get it?

Ford goes all out for safety; Suzuki adds features
The crossover is a fairly new category coming out of an existing one (sport utility vehicles) that has had safety issues in the past. One of those carmakers with past safety concerns is Suzuki. (The automaker refers to safety in super-tiny type at the bottom of its ad: "SUVs handle differently than ordinary passenger cars. Federal law cautions to avoid sharp turns and abrupt maneuvers." We couldn't find this "handling" law -- can you? Do you think the company lawyer sat in the creative meeting?) So one would think that with a somewhat questionable history in this category, Suzuki would go all out for safety, especially when it actually achieved more than one five-star rating. But it doesn't; instead it discusses a few other features, whereas Ford focused solely on safety.

We have two good ads for basically the same kind of car. The Suzuki XL7 Crossover is scored as "effective" (85.66) while theFord Taurus X Crossover scored "powerful" (95.40). Plus, with plenty of equal-sounding five-star ratings for believability support, the reader is left with the feeling that each marque is No. 1 in that category.

(Note: Each ad is audited separately by different panels.)

Ford Taurus X outscores Suzuki XL7 in each section. Here's why
The headline's job is to stop the consumer and pull him and/or her into the visual and copy. The more it does that with benefits (real or imagined), news or emotion, the better. By itself, Ford's "There's No Such Thing as Being too Safe" is a grabber statement with which most would agree. (How's that for "pulling" you in?) When the headline is coupled with an image of a toddler with penetrating eyes who is safeguarded with a gate, the case for relevance and emotion is made.

Suzuki's headline does stop the target market with a listing of key features -- "7-passenger seating. 5-star crash rating. 1 sweet ride. The new 2008 Suzuki XL& Crossover" -- but its elements are lacking in some emotion and excitement.
Suzuki Ad
Suzuki XL7
Category Potential Score % of Category
Headline 25.00 22.61 90.45
Visual Impact 27.50 20.94 76.15
Copy 25.00 22.05 88.20
Consumer Appeal 22.50 19.80 88.00
Total 100.00
© Grayson Associates 2007

Visual impact and copy make the case for Ford
The graphic's primary roles are to stop the target and to visualize the benefits. When these two elements are realized -- and with emotion, as in the Ford ad -- the case is clearly made. Those elements, however, are missing in the Suzuki ad. With its darkish, albeit sophisticated presentation, the ad is difficult to read. You can easily miss the reflected image of a rider and motorcycle, which are there to give the car an "edge" and a little "attitude" (the motorcycle is further referred to in the copy). Maybe not spotting the motorcycle is a good thing, considering the five stars for safety.

While both ads make a strong feature out of the superlative safety ratings, Ford comes out on top with: "We're also the company with more Five-Star crash test ratings than anybody in the country ... rated the safest seven-passenger crossover in America." The Ford copy is solely about safety, with plenty of emotion and permission to believe the premise ("safe" and "safety" are mentioned five times in the copy).

Suzuki's copy cites its results for front- and side-impact tests, and adds a few other safety features. But then it sells the car's other features, such as horsepower, a navigation system and stability control. It's here that the motorcycle's presence is described: "Get into the one crossover where motorcycle DNA comes standard." Excuse me, what does that really mean, and how do you reconcile a motorcycle's DNA with a high-safety strategy? A disconnect, for sure.

Ford's edge in consumer appeal comes down to how well it all works together, and its fit (trust) with the brand image. Suzuki could have done more with the visual. Consider some semiotics. Dark is associated with the unknown, fear and evil -- the guys in the black hats. The same ad with a brighter outlook would have projected quite a bit of comfort (not to mention improved readability).

An ad connects at the highest level of conviction when the headline, visual and copy are on the same page (no pun intended), executed with emotion and supported with believability. Neatly done, Ford.

Next week: Anti-aging facial-skin care.

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Note: The AdAudit analysis is a tool to discern strengths and weaknesses in print advertising, prior to insertion. Its weighted score is based upon 31 keys to effective print advertising within four categories: Headline, Visual Impact, Copy and Consumer Appeal. Scores translate to: 90-100 Powerful; 80-89 Effective; 70-79 Improve; less than 69 Start Over. The total score reflects the combined average of the specific panel of auditors -- advertising and marketing professionals -- assigned to each ad. For full details visit

Suzanne Grayson is a managing partner of marketing consulting firm Grayson Associates. Her partner and husband is Robert Grayson, Ph.D., who is also a contributor to this column. Comments are welcome, as are ads you would like to have audited. Contact [email protected]
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