Gas prices be damned.

With sales of pickup trucks on the mend, truck marketers are placing more focus on sponsorship to promote new vehicles, reach targeted audiences and drive showroom traffic.

Sales of new full-sized pickups in the U.S. rose 11.5 percent in 2011 to 1.49 million vehicles, according to CNW Research.

Rising demand is driving new deals and strategic partnerships at the national, regional and local level. Case in point: Chrysler Group LLC this year will expand its multi-tiered partnership with camouflage brand Mossy Oak with a new special-edition Ram Truck outfitted with camouflage trimmings.

On the regional level, Ram Truck earlier this month announced a new sponsorship with the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, while Bill Penney Toyota has partnered with the inaugural Alabama Bass Trail on behalf of the Toyota Tundra.

As in the past, truck manufacturers largely focus on four types of properties: country music, fishing, equestrian events and motorsports.

Below, three sponsorship drivers for the pickup truck category:

Gain platforms for co-branded vehicles. Similar to Chrysler’s strategic partnership with Mossy Oak, truck marketers are increasingly aligning with professional sports teams and musicians to develop special-edition vehicles.

Case in point: Chrysler late last year rolled out a special-edition Ram 1500 around its sponsorship of the NHL Detroit Red Wings. The vehicle features the Red Wings logo on the tailgate, front-seat headrests and optional embroidered leather seats.

“There is a lot of excitement and loyalty around the Red Wings, and we share the same values of passion, hard work, toughness and determination,” said Marissa Hunter, head of advertising for the Ram Truck brand.

Sales of the vehicle have exceeded expectations, she said. “It’s been selling like hot cakes.”

On the music front, Ford Motor Co. has leveraged its long-running partnership with country musician Toby Keith to develop a limited-edition F-150 truck, while Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc. activated its partnership with Brooks & Dunn with the Midnight Rider Tailgater, a customized pickup that features a flat-screen TV, infrared barbecue and door handles styled after western belt buckles.  Toyota showcased the vehicle during the band’s 2010 farewell tour.

Drive dealer traffic. Automakers frequently activate sponsorship with promotions that drive traffic to local dealerships.

In one of the more unique activation programs in the category, Chrysler in 2010 leveraged Ram Truck’s presenting sponsorship of Zac Brown Band’s national tour with the “Letters for Lyrics” letter-writing campaign. Consumers that wrote a letter to an active U.S. solder received a limited-edition compilation CD that featured songs from the Zac Brown Band and other artists.

Consumers could drop off the letters at participating Ram Truck dealerships.

Downplay exclusivity. While category exclusivity remains a key driver for many companies, some automakers are moving away from exclusive deals in favor of marketing platforms that provide a point of differentiation.

For example, Ram Truck’s partnership with the Arizona Diamondbacks affords presenting status of the pool at Chase Field, a platform it will use to gain visibility during game TV broadcasts.

“Like other industries, auto companies have changed their philosophy about category exclusivity. They’re confident they can out-activate other companies with whom they share the category,” said Cullen Maxey, the D-backs’ executive vice president of business operations.

The D-backs work with three other companies in the auto category, all of whom receive an ownable marketing platform. Audi of America, LLC titles two clubs in Chase Field; General Motors Co.’s Chevy supports the team’s youth outreach programs; while Sanderson Ford touts the team in advertising creative to gain a point of differentiation from other local dealerships.

In addition to stand-alone deals, auto manufacturers frequently promote trucks as part of larger partnerships with pro sports teams and other types of properties. For example, Ford’s sponsorship of the NHRA affords official car and truck status of the motorsports league.

 

Chrysler Group LLC
1000 Chrysler Dr.
Auburn Hills, MI 48326

Marissa Hunter, head of advertising, Ram Truck brand
248/576-5741

Sponsorship/Activation Strategy: Chrysler has ramped up sponsorship activity over the past three years after spinning off the Ram Truck brand from the Dodge nameplate.  Ram largely focuses on three types of properties: country music, equestrian events and outdoor activities. “We want to reach consumers based on their lifestyle and vocation, which allows us to connect on a level that is deeper than a standard media placement,” said Hunter. The truck brand is increasingly using sponsorship to reach specific audiences. For example, Ram in 2011 rolled out country music and Mexican music channels on Yahoo! Music to reach women and Latinos. Chrysler typically funds sports teams and other regional properties out of regional business centers. For example, the company’s West Business Center spearheaded Ram’s new partnership with the MLB Arizona Diamondbacks, while the Great Lakes Business Center assisted with the Red Wings sponsorship. 

Current deals: Presenting: Stihl Timbersports Series. Cosponsor: Academy of Country Music Awards; Belmont Park; Bud Light presents Country Jam USA, Eau Claire, Wis.; Kentucky Derby presented by Yum!; MLB Arizona Diamondbacks; National Buffalo Wing Festival, Buffalo, N.Y.; National Western Stock Show, Rodeo & Horse Show; NBA San Antonio Spurs; NHL Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks.

Additional comments:  D-backs partnership affords presenting status of the pool at Chase Field. Ram in 2012 partnered with The Weather Channel and the First Response Team of America, around which the brand will sponsor a TV series that chronicles the nonprofit disaster relief organization. Ram Truck activated the 2012 Academy of Country Music Awards with an on-site ride-and-drive program. The Richards Group helps develop sponsorship strategy; G7 Entertainment Marketing assists on country music programs.

 

Ford Motor Co.
1 American Rd.
Dearborn, MI 48126

Kevin Schebil, experiential marketing manager, Ford Truck and SUV
313/322-3000

Sponsorship/Activation Strategy: Maker of the country’s best-selling pickup truck sponsors to support its Built Ford Tough positioning, build its prospect database and align with key consumer passion points. Ford largely focuses sponsorship activity on its ten-year-old title of the Professional Bull Riders. The company activates the tie with the Built Ford Tough Invasion (www.FordInvasion.com), a program that centers around a team of current and former professional bull riders, exclusive content and a sweeps dangling a 2012 F-150 SVT Raptor and a trip for two to the 2012 PBR Built Ford Tough World Finals. Activates AQHA by offering special pricing to association members.

Current deals: Title: PBR Built Ford Tough Series. Cosponsor: American Quarter Horse Assn.; NASCAR; National FFA; NHRA; NFL Dallas Cowboys.

Additional comments:  Ford has a long-running partnership with country musician Toby Keith; the brand activated Keith’s 2011 Locked & Loaded Tour with a sweeps dangling a Keith special-edition truck. Ford in 2012 will roll out four 2013 F-Series Super Duty Platinum luxury truck models; the company unveiled the vehicles at a PBR event in Detroit earlier this year. Dallas Cowboys partnership runs through 2018. TeamDetroit helps develop sponsorship strategy.  

 

General Motors Co.
300 Renaissance Center
Detroit, MI 48265

Chris Hornberger, GMC national promotions manager
313/556-5000

Sponsorship/Activation Strategy: While General Motors markets trucks under two brands—Chevrolet and GMC—the company focuses sponsorship activity on GMC and the brand’s long-running NFL partnership. GMC in 2011 leveraged the NFL with the second-annual Monday Night Football Tour, a cause-related marketing program that builds playgrounds in local communities. The program, which supports the United Way’s goal of supporting active and healthy children, featured appearances by former and current NFL players as well as on-site test drives of the Sierra pickup truck, Acadia crossover and other GMC vehicles. The brand also activates the tie with vehicle display at the NFL Draft, the GMC Never Say Never Moment and a partnership with ESPN Monday Night Football announcer Mike Tirico. 

Current deals: Co-title: Home plaza, Turner Stadium, Humble, Texas. Cosponsor: 26.2 with Donna Finish Breast Cancer, Jacksonville Beach, Fla.; Big Ten Network; French Quarter Festival presented by Capital One Bank; Lone Star Rally, Galveston, Texas; Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade; Michigan State University athletics; NFL; NHL Tampa Bay Lightning; Seattle Int’l Film Festival.

Additional comments: GMC has sponsored Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade for the past 31 years. Chevrolet Silverado has strategic partnerships with outfitter Cabela’s Inc. and Jordan Outdoor Enterprises, Ltd.’s Realtree camouflage brand.

 

Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.
19001 South Western Ave.
Torrance, CA 90501

Edward Laukes, vice president, marketing communications & motorsports
310/468-4000

Sponsorship/Activation Strategy: The Japanese automaker—which markets the full-size Tundra pickup and Tacoma small pickup—sponsors pro and amateur fishing organizations. Toyota typically sponsors on behalf of the Toyota Trucks moniker, under which it promotes its truck lineup. The company activates with Toyota Trucks Bonus Bucks, a program that offers cash bonuses to tournament winners who tow boats with a 2007 or newer Toyota truck or SUV. Toyota supports the fishing program with a tie-in with Bass Pro Shops and endorsement deals with Kevin VanDam and three other professional anglers. Activates MLB Cincinnati Reds with an on-site promotion that awards a Tundra to a randomly-selected fan when a Reds player hits the “Hit it Here” sign in the Great American Ballpark. Toyota also has activated the tie by donating trucks to local police departments.

Current deals: Alabama Bass Trail; Bassmaster Classic; MLB Cincinnati Reds; Oakley Big Bass Tour; Stagecoach Country Music Festival powered by Toyota.

Additional comments:  Sponsors the inaugural Alabama Bass Trail on behalf of Bill Penney Toyota. Bassmaster partnership includes title of the Tundra Bassmaster Weekend Series. Toyota in 2011 activated the Stagecoach music festival with a photo scavenger hunt that dangled a Sony PlayStation video game. Saatchi & Saatchi helps develop sponsorship strategy.

Full-Size Pickup Truck Sales
2011 2010 % Change
Ram 244,763 199,652 22.6%
GMC Sierra 149,170 129,794 14.9%
Chevrolet Silverado 415,130 370,135 12.2%
F-Series 584,917 528,349 10.7%
Nissan Titan 21,994 23,416 -6.1%
Toyota Tundra 82,908 93,309 -11.1%