Last Updated: December 7, 2020
Pickup trucks are powerful symbols. More than being just tools for work, trucks imply something about the people who own and drive them. A commitment to a certain brand can suggest a connection to a certain ideal or ethic, and many drivers develop intense brand loyalties. Truck makers know this and craft carefully loaded ads that are often more about image than substance. They understand how the American male wants to feel about himself and reflect that ideal in their advertisements.
All truck ads make claims about how much a truck can tow, how powerful the engine is, and how many miles it can travel on a single tank of gas. Yet these quantitative facts often get lost beneath a parade of sleek images, tough music, and sentimental appeals. That is because truck ads speak directly to the experience of being a workingman. They appeal to any man that has wanted to get his hands dirty, flee the city, and have mastery over a machine. The Ford F-Series is the bestselling vehicle in America because pickup truck marketing helps define the identity of the American male.
Marketers understand that advertising makes a powerful psychological appeal to customers. The stoic men and roaring machines presented in most pickup truck ads tap directly into the male brain. Truck ads are as much about the psychology of masculinity as the utility of any given truck.
The Psychology of Marketing Pickup Trucks
|Brand and Commercial
|Explanation of Advertisement
|Psychological Response Elicited
|Chevy: “Like Father, Like Son”
|A young boy is shown playing with a toy Silverado truck. He takes the toy through a variety of childlike scenarios before his father pulls into the driveway in a real truck.
|Men age 25-60
|Pride in fatherhood – The ad uses the image of a father and his son to suggest that the hard working example a dad sets is passed on to his child. It makes a sentimental appeal in order to sell trucks.
|Ford: “Way of Life”
|A hyper kinetic video shows an animated truck going through a variety of work scenarios while a snarky and aggressive narrator describes its virtues.
|Men age 30-60
|Commitment to work – The ad applauds the no nonsense commitment to work that is exhibited by blue-collar workers. It suggests that they are practical, dedicated, and intensely capable.
|Toyota: “Ramp Stunt”
|A Toyota truck towing 10,000 pounds goes up one side of a massive see saw and down the other before braking to a halt at the bottom.
|Men age 40-70
|Desire to Increase One’s Power – Toyota uses an elaborate stunt to illustrate how powerful and well built their trucks are. It plays on most men’s desire to increase their own strength. This truck is portrayed as an additional muscle that can be flexed.
The meaning of pickup trucks
There is not a lot of variety in pickup truck advertising. Most ads feature men in jeans toiling on a construction site, towing a tractor, or escaping off into the mountains for a solitary weekend of fishing. Wrapped up within these clichéd images are powerful messages about what it means to be a man in America.
Marketing Green Trucks
At the 2012 Detroit Auto Show, Via Motors introduced a new line of GMC pickups converted to run on electric power. The trucks can travel 40-50 miles on a single charge, and with a supplementary gas tank have a range of up to 350 miles. No major automaker has plans to put electric trucks into mass production, but as the technology advances and gas prices rise, automakers will look to innovative energy-saving solutions. Truck ads have never highlighted their commitment to sustainability and energy conservation, but as fuel economy becomes more important, automakers will have to find ways to sell customers on “green” trucks.
Source: Forbes.com; Ucilia Wang; January 24th, 2012
Work is one of the most common themes in pickup truck advertisements. A truck is a tool for work and the men who own them have important work to do. Truck ads tap into men’s desire to be productive, capable, tough, and experienced.
Pickup truck ads also draw a conscious distinction between the hard workingmen who drive trucks and the pencil pushing office dwellers who do fine with a compact sedan. Truck ads take pride in their blue-collar necessity and appeal to any man who wants to feel independent and self-reliant.
But more than any other image, truck ads convey the idea of power. Whether it is physical or mechanical power, truck ads very consciously try to exude strength. Watching a truck as it races next to a herd of stampeding horses or up the side of a rocky mountain suggests that the truck, and by extension the driver, are charged with power. Every man wants to feel like he is strong, relevant, and in control of his destiny. The pickup truck is presented as a tool that can give men that power.
The psychology of marketing to men
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In the minds of marketers, there are very clear differences between men and women. William M. O’Barr, a professor at Duke University, examines the contrasting ways that marketers depict men and women from toddlers to seniors in “Representation of Masculinity and Femininity in Advertising.” O’Barr believes that advertising creates as much as it reflects a culture. The images that we see in ads from the time that we are very young inform our understanding of the world; particularly in the way we conceptualize gender. Soap ads featuring a smiling housewife deliver messages about women while beer ads featuring workingmen at the end of a shift create an image of men, regardless of how exaggerated or inaccurate those images may be.
O’Barr’s article shines a light on the most common images of masculinity that appear in advertising. His research applies directly to the marketing of pickup trucks that often feature stereotypically masculine figures. According to O’Barr, “Stoicism and carefully considered emotional reactions are hallmarks of adult masculinity in the world of advertising.” In pickup truck ads it is rare to see a reaction more animated than a grimace. Farmers and construction workers go about their business with a stony determination, more focused on the work than themselves.
The article concludes that advertising makes a careful and calculated decision to speak to one gender or another. Despite the fact that women drive and buy pickup trucks too, the ads will almost always be directed towards men.
**Source: O’Barr, W. M. (2006). Representation of masculinity and femininity in advertising. Advertising and Society Review, Retrieved from http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/asr/v007/7.2unit07.html
US Truck Sales
The graph below illustrates yearly United States truck sales since the start of the 2000’s. It is clear that the global recession has had a significant effect on the U.S. truck market. Advertisers will need to consider new marketing strategies in order to lure truck buyers back.
The importance of psychology in marketing
Businesses need to understand the complex psychological factors that determine purchasing decisions in order to create advertisements that make an impact on consumers. To learn more about how marketers use psychology, click here.
Best Selling Trucks by Make/Model
- GMC Sierra/ Chevrolet Silverado
- Ford F-Series
- Dodge Ram
- Ford Ranger
- Toyota Tacoma
- Dodge Dakota
- Toyota Tundra
- Nissan Frontier
- GMC Canyon/ Chevrolet Colorado
- Nissan Titan
Source: Auto Guide
There is plenty of competition in the truck market. Every major automaker is competing for a share of the huge yearly sales. In order to connect with the customers who want to buy a truck for work, sport, or style, automakers rely on the psychological insights produced by professionals like these.
Art Director: Art directors supervise the visual aspects of ads that appear in print, TV, and online. They will ensure that the images speak to the target consumer and are consistent across an ad campaign. Learn more about Art Directors.
Market Research Director: Market research directors conduct polls and focus groups to find the products, images, and appeals that most resonate with customers. Advertisers use their insights to create marketing messages that tap directly into the psyche of their intended customers. Learn more about Market Research Directors.