AdSpotting: New Ram ads push horses as brand looks for growth

Company: Chrysler

Brand: Ram

Medium: TV

Ad Agency: The Richards Group, Dallas

Product: Ram Pickup

Campaign: "Code of the West"

What We Like: There is a lot of rational left-brain advertising in the auto sector these days, especially in the pickup truck category. Take Ford, which has fast-talking, urbane actor/comedian Dennis Leary rattling off all kinds of numbers about fuel economy, towing capacity, etc. A new Ram ad campaign, launched a few months ago, goes the other way, continuing to use cowboy actor Sam Elliott whose leathery vocal chords seem to ooze images of toughness, heroism and even nostalgia for the kind of old-school work ethic that built the frontier. Indeed, this whole campaign seems to point one's thinking and emotions toward Gary Cooper's code of honor in the film classic "High Noon," and uses sets and locales that were actually used for the HBO series "Deadwood."

The two new ads in the campaign, carrying the tagline "Guts. Glory. Ram," and revolving around a theme of "Code of the West," actually takes the cowboy imagery Chrysler is establishing and dials in a bit of left brain info: the fact that Ram gets 20 mpg with its V8 Hemi, and another TV spot for the Power Wagon that shows the pickup rock crawling.

The best overall ad campaign for trucks we ever saw was Chevy's "Like A Rock." It combined a great music track with emotionally driven imagery that set the stage for any left-brain messaging GM wanted to convey. It was signature creative in its day. This Ram effort fills a void vacated by Chevy – asserting the truck and an advertising story line that makes you want to option up your next Ram for the saddle leather upholstery (if you can afford it), and get the "Big Horn" belt-buckle.

What We Don't Like: The Power Wagon TV spot shows off the truck's rock crawling capability, and asserts that Ram is the only truck "off the line" that can do that. But the truck is just climbing up a mound of rocks... to what end? How about making the point by showing a story of why the truck has to crawl those rocks?

There is a line in the campaign, though not in these two new ads, that proclaims: "There is No Middle Ground." Call us over-analytical, but while we know this is an ad about a truck and maintaining standards of excellence, the "No Middle Ground" as an idea is going to lose currency very quickly as the whole country comes to realize that out economic survival depends on political leaders finding just that – some middle ground. We'd hate to see a scene from the campaign used by far right wingers to make a point about something that has nothing to do with trucks.

And hey... how about some real music attached to this campaign.

Strategy: It's not Dodge Ram any more. The company, under the direction of Fiat, has separated Dodge cars and crossovers from the truck business. So, it's just Ram now. Company executives point to a 26% increase in business this year as evidence that the strategy and campaign are working to drive traffic. Some future Ram products are going to be adapted from Fiat commercial vehicles, we think. It will be interesting to see how the company morphs this very compelling creative to support those vehicles, unless Sam Elliott remains Ram pickup exclusive. Then again, wouldn't it be cool to see spagetti western style ads? Paging Clint Eastwood.

Grade: B+

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