Chrysler's Ram truck division is doing something right, particularly in the uber-competitive pickup truck market. Sales for the brand were up sharply last month and just about as much through the year [to be fair, just about every automaker has heaved a big sigh of relief in 2012].
Part Two of a Marketing Daily interview with Marissa Hunter, Ram's head of advertising, delves into some brand programs a few miles down the road. As if Ram wasn't hauling enough in 2012 via partnerships with country stars Zac Brown Band, Kellie Pickler, Easton Corbin, Brantley Gilbert and Billy Currington with the “2012 Road to the Ram Jam,” culminating with a concert this week at Nashville’s Marathon Music Works.
Q: Is Ram Truck going to support the five (or any of the five) artists going forward?
A: The first thing we will do with respect to supporting each of the artists is, during the first and second quarters this year, when we auction off the pickup trucks each artist got to drive for a year. For that we partnered with eBay to auction the trucks to the military charity of their choosing. And we will look to see what we can do beyond that.
Q: Ram launched the "Moving Heaven, and Earth" campaign this fall. What's (AOR) The Richards Group working on next for the "Guts. Glory. Ram." campaign?
A: Well, we just announced the new 2013 model-year heavy-duty truck and we are working on that campaign for release in the spring of 2013, as well as a large effort to bring forward the new Ram brand commercial division, which we have named ProMaster. So we have three product actions and the opportunity to get behind a commercial brand. And considering the volume of light trucks, we will continue marketing that along with some of the specialty models like Laramie Longhorn around the outdoor space, so we have dynamic campaigns in the works.
Q: How about new advertising?
A: Well, Ram [this month] just won Motor Trend 2013 "Truck of the Year" for light duty, so we will have a campaign to announce that. And we have a new spot around that called "Climb." And we had a dedicated full-page ad in USA Today celebrating our winning "Truck of the Year," and a whole host of support materials for dealers: outdoor, our customary radio placement, comprehensive point-of-sale.
Q: I also wanted to ask about media mix toward the Hispanic market which is growing. I know the "Heaven and Earth" campaign had a big Hispanic element?
A: The night of the Latin Grammys [Ram is auto sponsor] on Thursday, Nov. 15 we debuted a new light-duty campaign for the 2013 model year truck featuring Juanes. This is a wonderful alignment for us. He is great in person, he’s won 19 Latin Grammys [Juanes has, in fact, won more Latin Grammys than any other artist in the genre]. We will continue to run that campaign into the new year, and we are excited to see how we can take that beyond traditional elements. For Chrysler, the top-selling vehicles to Hispanic consumers are Ram light duty and Jeep. So these are key focus areas for us.
Q: You also sponsored the Country Music Awards this year. What about next year for both awards events?
A: For next year we will be in the Latin Grammys as official truck, and are considering the Academy of Country Music again. We are working with [Nashville-based] G7 Entertainment Marketing [which handled the "Road to Ram Jam" artist lineup] beyond for our consumer experience events going forward. This year, for example, we had a dedicated location in Las Vegas with the Academy of Country Music awards show, including a test-drive track.
Q: Ram pickup saw a 23% new-vehicle sales gain last month, 20% year-to-date through November. How much is product and how much new marketing strategy?
A: There are three key ingredients for us. Obviously it starts with product, and in that area we are bringing better, more dynamic, more competitive products to market. Second is the quality of our marketing outreach. Beyond traditional advertising, the programs we have been able to bring to market are customer-focused: country music, equestrian, outdoor. It also has to do with a consistent message that stays true to the brand value, and the personality of the brand. So people are starting to recognize things like the theme line [Guts. Glory. Ram.] and the voice of brand, [actor] Sam Elliot.
Q: What is the challenge around balancing personality with product attributes, since the latter is especially important to light truck buyers?
A: Really, the balance comes from ensuring that you are not overwhelming with either. My job is to establish a solid brand, and to provide them with the handful of key product points we know drive consideration: fuel economy, and warranty, for example. That has to be balanced with who or what the brand stands for. What are the key motivators? The latest "Heaven and Earth" advertising is a great example because it celebrates the pioneering technology of the truck [the ads tout such attributes/tech as rotary shift, fuel economy, Chassis Cab UConnect, and the air suspension kit] while delivering a key message around grandeur and storytelling.