By now, every truck guy or sports fan has seen the ads. Last year, it was “Real People. Not Actors” choosing a steel cage over an aluminum cage when confronted by a grizzly bear. This year, a sharp-edged toolbox causes a minor ding when dropped into the steal bed of a Chevy Silverado 1500 while the same toolbox badly damages the aluminum bed of a Ford F-150. A second scenario shows approximately 800 pounds of landscaping rocks dumped into both beds from a height of several feet, denting the Silverado and ripping holes in the F-150, as more “Real People” express shock.
Of course, the point is to illustrate the strength of Chevy’s steel bed compared to the aluminum bed of the redesigned 2015 F-150. Predictably, the Internet blew up. As Ford guys cried foul and Chevy guys cheered, everyone else debated if the ads go too far, that Chevy hit below the belt. While it’s one thing to tout your own strength like a prizefighter at a weigh in, it’s unsportsmanlike to call out another truck’s weakness. In effect, many people see this as the schoolyard equivalent of a two-handed push to the chest while questioning your opponent’s masculinity.
The cage commercials are easily dismissed. Using “real people” instead of actors is a tired cliché that attempts to influence perception. Though the bear is real and has a pretty impressive growl, especially when standing in the Silverado’s bed, he’s still a tame and trained Hollywood bear. Best of all, while the bear pushes up against the steel cage, he doesn’t even touch the aluminum one, let alone crush it like the proverbial tin can. Quite simply, the ad fails because it’s psychologically simplistic and plays to perceived “truths”—real people are believable, bears are dangerous, steel is stronger—rather than what we see with our own eyes, which makes the newer commercials more impressive.
No matter where you stand on the Ford/Chevy rivalry, the new ads are visually striking. It’s tough to look at the cracked bed of the aluminum F-150 and not make a pained face, for the truck and all those bruised Ford egos. While not everyone who buys a half-ton truck expects to have 800 pounds of landscaping blocks dumped in their bed, it’s still hard to ignore, especially for the folks who really do use their work trucks for work. According to several sources, GM executives noted that the difference in bed strength was discovered by their engineers and not the marketing department—an important distinction. Engineers make us think facts and science while marketing makes us think hype and sales.
Interestingly, the Silverado 1500 itself features an aluminum hood and engine. As noted in the article “Chevy’s Shit-Talking Aluminum Truck Ads Will Bite Them in the Ass Someday,” from the website Truckyeah.com, Chevy insists their ads are not an attack on aluminum. Instead, they are committed to using “the right material for the right application.” Of course, that’s fine while the Silverado still features a steel bed, but what will Chevy say next year, when it is widely believed that GM will switch to aluminum?
According to the article “What’s really behind Chevy’s attacks: GM thinks the Ford F-150 is vulnerable” in Autonews.com, GM is confident its “mixed metal” technology will be more advanced than Ford’s old-fashioned “bonding and riveting.” While aluminum is more expensive to repair and requires special shops and equipment, the same article says that, according to Ford, less than one percent of F-150 owners have complained about bed damage, but when you build a million trucks, one percent is still 10,000, a lot of complaints by any standard.
Yet, despite all this, one would think Ford’s response would be stronger, picture kidnapped Chevy engineers—“Real Engineers. Not Actors”—cowering in aluminum cages while menaced by lions. Instead, they seem to have taken the high road, with Ford spokesman Mike Levine dismissing Chevy’s commercials as “a marketing stunt.” To date, there is no evidence that sales of F-150s have suffered, though several sources cite the significant cash incentives offered by Ford. At the same time, sales of Silverados have remained stagnant in comparison, despite some lofty incentives of their own.
Recently, a new ad entitled “The Tough 10 Reasons Ford F-150 Outpaces Every Other Truck” seems to be a response. Two minutes in length, the ad starts with a history book.As a hand tires in vain to start an old-fashioned keyed ignition—on a rabbit’s foot keychain, no less—the voiceover adds, “Those who don’t learn from history are bound to drive it.” GM is the only truck manufacturer to not feature push-button ignition. While the spot features beautiful F-150s towing trailers, boats and industrial equipment, all of its loads, including plastic picnic tables and soccer balls, a bed full of two-by-fours, and a row of sandbags, appear neatly and carefully stacked. In fact, the only imagine to compare to Chevy’s ads is a load of dirt dumped into the bed, which is a far cry from Chevy’s titanic rocks.
Of course, there’s a lot to be said for brand loyalty. With a history dating back to the 1940s, the Ford F-150 has earned its reputation as the best-selling truck in America. At the same time, GM’s aggressive new approach shows it won’t be bullied by the F-150’s popularity, and a little healthy competition is good for everyone. In the end, all parties should remember that the new 10-speed transmission on 2017 F-150s is a joint effort of Ford and GM that was five years in the making, and we can expect to see it again on next year’s Siverados. While it’s good to blow off a little steam now and then, constructive collaboration might move the industry further faster than blatant hostility.