Ram is on a roll. And if success has many fathers, paternity might be difficult to determine for a truck brand that has muscled its way past Chevrolet and into second place behind Ford in the most important and most profitable part of the U.S. marketplace. But certainly how the independent Ram brand has evolved has played a huge role.
With second-quarter sales figures soon to be announced, it appears as though the Fiat Chrysler-owned pickup-truck brand will extend the lead that it took in the first quarter over Chevy Silverado, its main rival for the runner-up position behind long-time industry leader Ford F-150. Ram held a sales lead over Silverado of nearly 22,000 units five months into 2019, according to Automotive News.
Among the reasons for Ram’s ascendance is the discernibly more functional and luxurious interior in the all-new 2019 Ram, including its biggest-in-class 12-inch touch screen and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof. The significantly overhauled fresh version of Ram 1500 was hailed as the 2019 North American Truck of the Year at the North American International Auto Show this year. Fiat Chrysler has been upgrading heavy-duty versions of Ram as well.
Fiat Chrysler also has snared market share with aggressive showroom rebates this year. The company offered an average discount of $5,900 on its new Ram 1500 in the first quarter of this year compared with $5,000 that General Motors was offering for the recently redesigned Silverado, according to Edmunds.com.
But a good portion of the credit for Ram’s ascendance belongs to a marketing strategy that has provided tremendous horsepower for the brand as it has become a new draft-horse partner for the company along with Jeep.
The latest Ram marketing campaign, titled “On to Bigger Things,” showcases class-leading features in Ram models that exceed owners’ personal and professional expectations. Featuring a custom rendition of the Fleetwood Mac hit song “Go Your Own Way,” new ads highlight Ram owners including renowned racehorse trainer Todd Pletcher, female professional saltwater fly fisher Alex Lovett Woodsom, and Wayne Mueller, the third-generation owner of Texas-based Louie Mueller BBQ.
Such new directions in advertising are part of what has helped Ram continue to climb in the pickup-truck wars, believes Fiat Chrysler Chief Marketing Officer Olivier Francois. “What we needed to do with Ram,” Francois told me recently, “was to speak to multiple dimensions of the brand. Like every brand, it has different facets. Like all others, we need to promote the capabilities of our products. Torque, pull, towing capacity — everyone does that. And we must do it, too, because we have big claims. Ram is a superior product. But at the same time, we need to develop character for the brand around service, respect, and giving back. It’s a more-classical pitch for Ram but we need to find original ways to do it.”
Ram’s current brand credibility ultimately stems from the fact that Fiat Chrysler broke Ram pickups off from the rest of Dodge about ten years ago, cleaving the future identity of its crucial pickup-truck franchise from the wheezing Dodge marque and underscoring Ram’s distinctiveness when it was still far in third place in the segment.
Much credit goes to the late Sergio Marchionne, Fiat Chrysler’s CEO for 10 years who died in July. “One thing that is [under-recognized] is Sergio’s legacy when it comes to advertising and marketing,” Francois said. “He wanted us to be bold and different, and that was part of the strategy for the Ram brand. Each of our brands has owned its own space, and people start seeing our brands as reflections of their own character.”
Francois has fertilized Ram’s growing brand identity over the years with memorable advertisements that have worked symbiotically with expansions of the Ram product lineup, lauded overhauls of exterior restyling and notable improvements throughout the vehicles. Highlights along the way have included two Super Bowl commercials — the poignant “Farmer” ad featuring a posthumous voiceover by Paul Harvey for the Super Bowl in 2014 and another, albeit humorous, Big Game ad, “Vikings,” last year.
Francois also leveraged Ram as well as the company’s iconic Jeep brand in rolling out a new Fiat Chrysler Super Bowl advertising strategy this year of refraining from TV advertising during the game and, instead, peppering the occasion with well-executed digital ads. One Ram entry introduced actor Jeremy Renner as the brand’s new spokesperson. Titled “Make Sure of It,” the 90-second ad leveraged the culture’s #MeToo moment to bring a new dimension to the Ram brand.
Focused on the face of Renner’s daughter in the back seat of a Ram while he drives, his voiceover shares his hopes and dreams for her future. “She won’t be a female leader … She will be a leader,” he says, at the end vowing, “And I’m going to make sure of it.” The Ram tag line says, “Make the next generation even better. That’s our job.” The ad has garnered more than 2.5 million views on YouTube — a pittance compared to the 100-million-plus TV viewers that a Super Bowl gets, but an important creative moment for Ram nonetheless as Francois begins to test the bounds of a digital-first marketing strategy.
Although on a smaller scale than some of the big advertising bets Francois has placed for Fiat Chrysler over the years — such as the epic “Born Of Fire” Super Bowl ad in 2011 that starred Eminem — “Make Sure of It” entailed some risks as well, he said. “My European side,” said the French-born Francois, “totally related to the ad. [But] my fresher, newer American side — I wasn’t sure it would connect with our viewers, as much as I liked it. But I concluded that it would be something super-positive.”