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Print ads: Quiet but effective
case studies
16 . 08 . 18

Ford use print marketing to convince Kiwi blokes to break it off with their better halves

Words by: Print Power
The popular car marque used humorous DM print marketing to give petrol heads the emotional support they needed
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The power of print at a glance

  • DM might not be the ‘easiest’ form of advertising in print media, but it has a tactility, intimacy and authenticity that digital media don’t
  • People are, um, people – and they respond to human, analogue, emotional experiences (so make it funny)
  • As storytellers, marketers should let the message dictate the medium

“Here in New Zealand, the Ford Ranger is almost a cultural phenomenon,” says Justin Barnes, executive creative director at J. Walter Thompson New Zealand. “It’s the single most popular vehicle in the country. People frickin’ love them. I even have one myself.”

In fact, if you care, it’s actually the best-selling car for the third year in a row. So, how do you convince a nation of ute obsessives – utes are utility vehicles, or pick-up trucks – to finally let their current model go and trade up to a shiny new, top-spec Ranger Wildtrak?

Well, you could do what Ikea did back in 2002, with its superb, 60-second ‘Lamp’ rug-pull, and take the audience on an emotional rollercoaster ride of abandonment and absurdity. Or you could try something a bit different – say, with direct mail print advertising. JWT plumped for the latter.

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And thank the Lord for its tongue-in-cheek ‘How to break up with your Ford Ranger’ kit – because no-one wants to see Kiwi blokes blubbing into a pint of DB Bitter, right?

The instructional book serves up advice and emotional support for owners, in the form of fill-in-the-blanks break-up letter templates, mood-lifting music recommendations (The Beach Boys’ Don’t Worry Baby, anyone?), self-empowerment proverbs, a built-in box of tissues – and even a money-off voucher to soften the sting of betrayal.

It was, reckons Barnes, a ‘deep dive’ into the consumer psyche – a way for Ford to tap into the emotional bond between men and their machines.

“We tried to push those soft buttons,” he confirms. “And there’s something tactile and human in printed media that doesn’t really exist in the digital space.”

Only it turns out that the intimate option – DM – isn’t always the easiest.

“DM left us with a bit of a mountain to climb,” Barnes admits. “While it’s a great one-to-one medium, it can be pretty polarising. People don’t ask for it. So, there’s the ever-present challenge of your audience being predisposed to simply throwing your creative in the bin.”

“We all know what it’s like,” he explains. “You pick up the paper and it’s full of supplements you don’t want. Or some leaflet comes through the letter box and you let the dog have it. Our challenge was, first, to get consumers’ attention; and second, to deliver our message.”

Tone of voice, Barnes says, was key.

“We injected a dose of humour into the message – because folks don’t always take life too seriously. We played to that. You have to remember: we’re just people talking to other people. The experience should always be analogue, human, emotional.”

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He points to the Google Duplex project, and its ambitions to create an AI that can hold a completely natural-sounding conversation.

“It sounds like, and probably is, pretty whizz-bang technology,” says Barnes. “But essentially, even Google is investing millions in replicating a very human, analogue experience.”

Marketers, he finishes, should exploit whatever medium they think is best placed to enable those experiences and create the required emotional connections, in this case, good old-fashioned print marketing – i.e. direct mail.