By Mike Magda
Setting brand loyalty completely aside, which of the famous voices and faces of full-size trucks appeal to real truck owners? Granted, they were all hired to sell a product, and their effectiveness as a marketing tool is a worthy debate topic for financial analysts.
We’re just wondering: Who would be the most interesting, informative and entertaining celebrity at a table full of knowledgeable truck enthusiasts? Who do you think can carry on a lively and intelligent conversation about full-size pickups without all the flame throwing and marque bashing that often clogs the web these days?
We’ve narrowed down the field to six: Denis Leary, Mike Rowe, and Toby Keith for Ford, Howie Long and Tim Allen for Chevrolet; and Sam Elliott for Ram. This is simply a just-for-fun comparison, but we are going to be somewhat serious and not include clowns or acrobats.
There’s no number-crunching of empirical data, and our exercise has few subjective criteria. It just boils down to who’s closest to being the archetype truck owner that we’d love to have around the campfire and carry on an insightful conversation about trucks.
No. 6: Denis Leary
It’s funny, the spokesman least likely to know anything about trucks is probably the voice behind the most effective truck commercials we’ve seen lately. While Denis may know his way around a firetruck, we doubt he has a strong opinion on electronic versus manual-shift transfer cases. Yet, this smash-mouth comedian’s highly recognizable timbre and trademark hyper delivery fits perfectly with Ford’s rapid-fire storytelling images that basically carpet-bomb the viewer’s senses with the simple but hard-hitting feature-function-benefit message. These ads are so potent that they’ve spurred parodies, and Denis’ contributions have been mocked as well. Despite the popularity of the ads and Denis’ biting commentaries on life, we’re guessing this chain-smoker wouldn’t last two cigarettes into a hardcore truck discussion about the regen cycles of particulate filters.
Since Sam doesn’t physically appear in the Ram TV ads (we only hear his voice), we base much of our perception on images culled from his movie career. That means he’s likely to spend more time on a motorcycle or horse than behind the wheel of a pickup. But that doesn’t diminish the impact that his deep, resonating voice can have with truck shoppers. Sam has a set of pipes that would make John Facenda bow down and pray to Detroit. Heck, Sam’s voice even has its own Facebook page. Give him the right script, and he’ll sound like an authentic, rugged truck owner. The beauty of this ad strategy is that Ram can create memorable, artistic images to complement Sam’s rich voice.
Sadly, however, we don’t get to know Sam very well, and we can’t determine if he could tell a Posi from a Locker. A conversation with him would probably drift away from trucks to his leading ladies. But dang, those Ram commercials are a work of art with his voice leading the way.
Howie has been MIA from Chevy marketing for some time. But looking back, what a waste of a strong, brawny Hall of Fame defensive lineman who was just plain “caveman” vicious while playing for football’s most hated team. Just based on his fighting-in-the-trenches persona, we’d like to believe that Howie drove to practice in a Chevy dually with a Bell Tech four-to-six-inch drop and cool-for-its-day scallop paint job.
Chevy had an incredible opportunity to create an authentic truck-owning spokesman. Instead, Howie’s commercial appearances looked like Rachel Zoe dressed him for a man-host auction at a PETA fund-raiser. And we won’t even get into those ridiculous “man-step” and “heated steering wheel” commercials forced on him. However, Howie likely knows more about trucks than Sam Elliott. He was part of a series of informational videos produced by GM in which he discussed the advantages of the Silverado over the competition with the truck’s lead engineer, Gary White. The conversation sometimes turns a little folksy, but at least Howie was listening.
By now, Mike Rowe is as synonymous with Ford as the Blue Oval. He’s also heavily associated with pulling crabs out of the Bering Sea, shaking his butt for the ladies and sticking his hands in unmentionable animal cavities. In other words, he’s spreading himself pretty thin these days and may have more on his mind than the latest diesel torque numbers.
Like Howie, Mike has spoken with engineers in customer information videos. But Mike seemed more eager to crack wise than learn about the truck. We’re sure that Mike drives a truck, and he is arguably the most personable of the five with a lot great non-truck stories to tell. He would be a welcomed contributor to our truck conversation, if he can stay on topic.
No question that Tim Allen owned the most bad-ass truck of any automotive spokesperson, and he knows how to do a burnout. We’ve talked with Tim at a Detroit speed shop and at SEMA, and he is extremely knowledgeable about the auto industry. He’ll carry on a vibrant conversation, and he knows how to time his quips — a comedic quality still maturing with Mike Rowe.
Around truck guys, Tim will hold his own, but for how long? Tim’s extensive background in hot rodding and street performance may tempt him to wander away from a truck conversation. But we like Tim, and Chevy needs to use his image and character instead of just his voice, which isn’t as recognizable as Rowe’s or as powerful as Sam Elliott’s. When the next-generation Silverado is introduced, Chevy should showcase Tim’s knowledge in a series of tech-feature videos directed solely at hardcore truck consumers. Allow the engineers and Tim to really talk trucks in our language. Just let Tim dress himself.
Ford has used country singers like Alan Jackson and Irlene Mandrell in the past to promote their pickups, but none has the truck cred like Toby Keith. We believe Toby when he says he grew up with trucks. He likely drives a truck more often than any of our six contenders, if only because he’s always driving a Ford truck in his movies.
Toby may not know the difference between dentside and bumpside Ford trucks, but we’re pretty sure he’ll listen to fellow truck owners talk about them. Toby looks like a truck owner, acts like a truck owner and looks comfortable talking with truck owners. He’s our pick for the spokesman most likely to fit in our truck community.