Guts, Glory, Meh

When I saw this commercial the other day, I wondered up until the 11 second mark who was running this commercial. Then I saw the ram head logo and all my questions were answered.

Well, except for one: Why use a printing press to advertise a pickup truck?

I still haven’t found an answer to that yet, but the search for it I stumbled across the rest of the commercials in this series. They all feature the RAM in the American Old West with cowboys, horses and the whole shebang. They’re grittly voiced by Sam Elliot, which is appropriate, but I don’t think they’re very effective. The ad below, which highlights the storage compartment in the RAM’s rear fenders, is a prime example. There’s a fine line between jazzing up your product and going off the deep end into excessive presentation. This feels like window dressing that’s designed to half obscure the product.

The idea of advertising is to, on some level, build a rapport with the people who you want to have as your customers. Ads serve as a way to start a dialogue between a business and a customer that will eventually lead to a relationship. I don’t think there are many people out there looking for a new truck who think they are cowboys. Granted there are the states of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and other western states, but they aren’t the only people who buy pickups. If this was a smaller regional campaign aimed at those states I could understand it.

But pickups sell nationwide. I doubt that buyers on the East or West coasts connect with this campaign. The presentation just doesn’t fit the more metropolitan buyers that also form a significant part of the pickup market. I doubt that they see themselves as cowboys; they’re just people that need a strong, reliable truck.

The final blow to this campaign is that it’s been done before. Ford, Chevy, GMC, Dodge, and even Toyota and Nissan have used this sort of tough, gritty salesmanship before. They’ve all mined it for so long that it’s become a worn out cliche. There’s almost a checklist now: dirt on the truck, check. Bouncing through ruts in the road, check. A deep voiced narrator, check.

It’s true that trucks general sell based on a few key points such as horsepower and payload ratings, but there must be some new way to present that. In RAM’s case it’s even more important for them to find a new way to say the same old things because they don’t have Dodge’s macho, in your face, reputation to lean on. A good example of it, from 2002, is below.

RAM is out on its own now, and it’s struggling to find its identity. I hope that they sort themselves out soon because Chrysler is starting to get back on its feet. To make this turnaround work they need to be firing on all cylinders. To really abuse the metaphor, RAM can’t afford to keep missing.

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