2010 Ford RangerEnlarge Photo
The new Ranger will go on sale in Europe this April and could be on sale in the U.S. by 2011Enlarge Photo
Angular Front Exterior View - 2010 Toyota Tacoma 2WD Access V6 AT PreRunner (Natl)Enlarge Photo
Product placement isn't a new idea. For decades, companies like General Motors, Coca-Cola, and McDonald's have paid big bucks to have their products featured in TV shows and movies. But Ford has come up with an interesting twist on product placement: in a fascinating new campaign for the 2010 Ford Ranger, Ford is going old-school by placing its message in a play. Like, the kind you'd see in a theatre in Argentina.
This is one of the most unusual and outside-the-box marketing campaigns we've seen in a very, very long time. Here's the short version: the Ford Ranger has been a strong seller in Argentina, accounting for up to 35% of all pickup sales. Recently, however, the Ranger's market share has slipped to 25% due to competition from vehicles like the Toyota Hilux (known in America as the Toyota Tacoma).
To counter that slide, Ford teamed up with global giant ad firm JWT to create a marketing campaign for the pickup, but they realized that the 2010 Ranger wasn't too different from recent models. So instead of talking about the truck's new features, Ford and JWT decided to tell new stories about the Ranger itself. In a nutshell, they've written new legends using South America's popular style of magic realism to embed the Ranger in the public's consciousness. (If you've ever seen Like Water for Chocolate, you've seen magic realism in action.) But rather than deliver their message in print ads or on the web, Ford and JWT decided to reach buyers where they've rarely been reached before: the theatre.
They began by launching a website that solicited folktales from the public. Of the 1,000 submissions, three were eventually chosen to be turned into plays. Ford hired playwrights, and each tale was converted into a 25-minute one-act play. And in each play, the Ford Ranger plays a prominent role.
In one piece, for example, a local mail carrier uses a Ford Ranger to deliver letters that contain curious revelations. In another, a couple driving in their Ford Ranger see a mysterious light on the horizon, which turns out to be a UFO. The couple choose to return with the aliens to their universe -- but only if they can take their Ford Ranger, too.
This is an intriguing spin on the current phenomenon of viral videos. In that milieu, companies either create video clips of their own or pay for placement in someone else's clip, in hopes that the video will go viral and spread across YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and any number of social media websites.
Theatre runs counter to that dynamic, though. By its very nature, theatre has a limited audience: it's performed live for a finite number of people, and it has no life beyond that. Sure, it can be recorded and passed on, but those recordings tend to be for archival purposes, not mass viewing. (When's the last time you watched a recording of a stage play?) And even so, Ford doesn't seem to be depending on video audiences for this campaign: no, Ford is relying on those in attendance to buy the Ranger and talk it up by word of mouth.
So Ford gets improved brand recognition and high-culture connotations, and Argentinians get what appears to be a series of popular plays. (The plays originally ran in four cities, but demand from the public is leading to a larger tour of the productions and the writing of new plays.) Sounds like a win-win, no?