If you watched the Super Bowl last night, you probably caught Chevrolet's ad for the 2012 Silverado pickup. Most saw it as a clever riff on the whole 2012/Mayan calendar/world-ending thing that's rumored to occur later this year. When the folks at Ford watched it, though, all they saw was red.
The premise of the ad is simple: the apocalypse has arrived on schedule, delivered by a shower of falling meteors, alien space ships, volcanic eruptions, and a plague of frogs. As the dust settles, four friends meet up at a pre-designated rendez-vous point in their Chevrolet Silverados. Backed by strains of Barry Manilow's 1976 key-change extravaganza, "Looks Like We Made It", the four briefly discuss their friend Dave, who's nowhere to be seen.
"Dave didn't drive the longest-lasting, most dependable truck on the road," one of the four says, eyes downcast. "Dave drove a Ford."
The group look sad for a moment, then take solace in a box of Twinkies. (Sadly, cockroaches and Cher are nowhere to be seen.)
Though the ad seems like good-natured ribbing between two Detroit rivals, set against a backdrop of global annihilation, Ford isn't laughing. In fact, according to the Detroit Free Press, Ford sent a cease-and-desist letter to General Motors insisting that it pull the commercial from the internet and stop running it on television. Ford says that the ad's claims are false and points to the sales volume for the F-series as proof that Ford pickups are thoroughly reliable and durable.
From where we sit, Ford may have fumbled on this one -- twice.
First, we're all for truth in advertising and protecting brands, but we've watched this commercial numerous times, and it seems like Chevy's comments about Ford are generic enough to dodge legal bullets. In other words, we may not be lawyers, but we're not entirely sure that Ford has a case. That makes Ford come off like a bit of a whiner, and whining is never good. (We have a suspicion it's even worse when it comes to truck ads.)
GM's marketing head honcho, Joel Ewanick, released a statement in response to Ford's letter. In it, he basically said that if the world does end, and Ford trucks do survive, GM will be happy to apologize. Our guess is that GM will capitalize on this controversy for a while. In fact, as of this morning, when we Google "Super Bowl 2012", the first ad that pops up references the Silverado, saying "Dave didn't survive the 2012 apocalypse. Will you?" (We've pasted a screencap below.)
However, Ford's biggest fumble may have been not taking advantage of the advertising buzz surrounding the Super Bowl at all. Ford chose not to run commercials during the game -- which is fine, given the hefty price tag associated with those ads. But why didn't Ford create a commercial to run online in the week prior to the game, just to generate excitement?
Ford has now acknowledged that mistake. As the automaker's marketing chief, Jim Farley, told reporters at the National Automobile Dealers Association in Las Vegas, "My biggest regret is we didn't create a long-form Super Bowl-like ad and promote it".
For non-football junkies and Puppy Bowl fans, we've pasted the Chevy Silverado ad below. Have a look and let us know if you think Ford has a fair case, or if it's making a mountain out of a apocalyptic molehill.
Google search results for 'Super Bowl 2012' on February 6, 2012