Ford Vs. Toyota: Which is Crash Worthy?

By: Jenny Mclane

The Ford Motor Co. will push the competition with the Toyota Motor Corp. and the Nissan Motor Co. a little further with a new television commercial that showcases an actual crash test of bread-and-butter pickup - the F-150 from the F-Series.

The new television ad is the latest in a series for the F-150 featuring Mike Rowe, host of the Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs." The ad is specifically designed to draw attention to the fact that the automaker's pickup yielded the highest possible safety rating from the federal government. It could also be noted that other worthy rivals like Toyota and Nissan did not get such commendation.

Ford's second ad, which emphasizes on the merits of larger leaf-spring bolts, is expected to work wonders like . The ad will begin airing later this May. The Detroit automaker will also start acquiring space for print and online versions of the ads in a variety of media outlets. Both ads are part of its new "Ford Challenge" campaign, which challenges purchasers especially the non-Ford enthusiasts to compare cars and trucks against competitors' vehicles. The campaign is designed to thump a more confident tone and stress on the segment-leading features of Ford's products. "It really goes back to telling our story," said Ben Poore, the Ford's truck marketing manager.

Most automakers in the market have been hesitant to feature crash-test images in their advertising, which may be altering as safety standard increases on the list of the consumer's considerations in buying vehicles. "Sometimes it can conjure negative images with a product, even if it is successful," said Alexander Edwards, a marketing expert with Strategic Vision in San Diego. "Once you put in this crash test, it really depends on the executions."

The Chrysler Group, in its short-lived Dr. Z campaign, flaunted DaimlerChrysler AG Chairman Dieter Zetsche crash a Pacifica crossover. Volkswagen AG, on the other hand, has been running a series of jarring ads depicting crashes relating to their product lines. Nicole Nason, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) director, recently commended Volkswagen's in-your-face ads, saying safety has become a major selling point with U.S. motorists. "Consumers used to take tepid sips of the safety Kool-Aid and are now gulping it down," Nason said at the Society of Automotive Engineers 2007 World Congress in Detroit.

Ford's F-150, a full-size pickup truck, received a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA for both the driver and front passenger. The most popular variant of the F-Series, which has been offered for five decades, has already etched a reputable standing in the auto industry. This is why it has been the best selling vehicle in the United States for 23 years and the best selling pickup for almost three decades.

The Toyota Tundra, which is seen as the closest threat to the F-150, received four stars. Ford's ad did not point out the Tundra by name, but only said some competitors did not fare as well in the government crash tests. Nissan's Titan pickup also received four stars.

Ford's new ads also departed from the norm by casting actual Ford engineers as the straight men to the witty Rowe. In the safety ad, Bill McDonald, a supervisor at Ford's crash barrier facility in Dearborn, tried in vain to upstage Rowe for laughs. Additionally, the leaf-spring ad paired Rowe with Ford truck suspension engineer Paul Angove.

Ford started featuring Rowe in truck ads early this year. "We're really happy with the results," Poore said. According to the automaker's internal research, the "Ford Challenge" ads are increasing consumer perception of its products, boosting purchase consideration and sales.

Adding actual Ford employees to the equation was logical step, Poore said. "This is what Mike does in the real world. He goes to peoples' jobs and he makes them heroes," he said, referring to Rowe's TV show spotlighting less-than-glamorous occupations.

Rowe is not the automaker's only truck pitchman. Toby Keith, a famed country music star, remained one of Ford's most influential weapons in the marketing arsenal. Keith is now getting ready to take the F-series on the road again as an ingredient of his "Big Dog Daddy" concert tour. "We'll have a major integration of the truck into his show," Poore said.

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