Last year’s trend in truck advertising was outrageous feats of strength that brought us a Chevy Silverado heavy duty pulling a freight train, a Toyota Tundra towing a trailer over a giant see-saw and a Ford F-150 stopping a landing C-123 cargo plane. Then, each manufacturer sought to outdo the others to prove how capable its trucks were. This year, they're going with good old-fashioned smack talk.
GM and Ford have signed up personalities as tough as the current sales environment to pitch their latest pickups. Ex-Oakland Raiders defensive end and NFL Hall-of-Famer Howie Long and chronically angry comedian Dennis Leary verbally jab the competition — as well as people who only drive trucks to haul their image — while highlighting the strengths and features of the automakers' latest pickups. The commercials have been running frequently throughout the NFL playoffs.
Leary’s voice-overs for Ford play up the work traits of the new 2009 F-150. He deadpans about the F-150’s new features, like trailer sway control and internet access, in addition to traditional capabilities like towing and hauling.
"Odds are, if you’re one of the people in America with a pickup truck, it ain’t a luxury, it’s a way of life," says Leary, who pokes fun at soft targets like hand models and yarn-haulers.
Leary also spends a commercial pumping the F-150’s exclusive new tailgate and box-side steps that help with access to the truck’s cargo box, claiming they’ll come in handy the “50- or 60-thousand times” a person might need to access the bed."
But Ford isn’t calling the competition out on the carpet as aggressively as GM is.
In one 30-second spot, GM pitchman Long targets the F-150’s tailgate step and its uncoordinated owner who’s just tied down a new birdhouse in the back of his Ford.
"Hey buddy, you left your little, uh, man-step down,” says Long, who’s just finished throwing bags of concrete into the back of his Silverado. The commercial highlights the Silverado’s five-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty (the F-150 has a five-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty) over the built-in step.
One unlikely fan of the man-step commercial is Ford truck marketing manager Doug Scott.
"I hope they keep running the spot because they’re doing a great job advertising that feature for us," Scott said. "Thirty-two percent of the 2009 F-150s we’ve sold have that tailgate step. We’re doing really well with it, and we’re really happy they’re running that ad because it’s proven to be a popular feature."
Long takes a swipe at the new 2009 Dodge Ram 1500, too. He asks a Ram driver who’s just tapped Long’s Silverado while backing out of a parking spot if the Dodge has a heated steering wheel and if the driver has manicured hands — both of which the Ram driver admits to with embarrassment.
We’ll politely remind Long that the Silverado’s upscale twin, the GMC Sierra Denali, also comes with a heated steering wheel, though the advertisement is trying to make a point that the Silverado’s 21 mpg highway fuel-economy rating is a superior feature over a heated wheel.
The real zinger, though, is Long’s encounter with a deep-talking Toyota Tundra driver who brags about his new “trucker’s truck and real trucker’s stuff.” Long asks about fuel economy, and the suddenly high-pitched Tundra owner says it gets 19 mpg on the highway while admitting it’s a V-6. Howie tells the man to “have fun being a real trucker,” while a Chevy voice-over touts the Silverado’s 5.3-liter V-8 and its 21 mpg highway mileage rating.
Ouch; that’s laying down some tough talk.