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Tommy and the Ram pickup truck remind us how to view TV commercials

Consumer Reports News: April 10, 2012 05:38 PM

Car commercials have long used music, imagery, and messaging to create brand awareness and drive sales. In our busy world, striking the right emotional chord can make a lasting emotional impact that can influence consumer decisions, but as with the case of the latest Ram pickup truck ad, they don't often hold up to scrutiny.

At the 2012 New York International Auto Show, the truck brand Ram, formerly known as Dodge, made a powerful presentation of its improved 1500 pickup truck. The speech, stagecraft, multimedia magic, and in fairness, the engineering, all made a powerful impression. Ultimately, the capper was an evocative commercial called "Tommy and the Ram."

A part of the "Halftime in America" series, this new television ad really pulls at the heartstrings. It chronicles the challenges of a family down on its luck and celebrates the husband's perseverance to scrape together work thanks to the versatility of his truck. It is a story that, sadly, many Americans can closely identify with and many more can appreciate.

Yet, remember: This is an ad to sell trucks. It doesn't tout the various sizes, configurations, and prices the Ram can be had in, nor highlight the impressive specs and abilities. Instead, it keeps the message simple and plays to your emotions.

However, the underlying theme remains: "Buy a truck as good as the Ram, and you can work yourself out of tough times." Perhaps an old beater truck would be a better solution for some people, but this ad shows a Ram 2500 Crew Cab Power Wagon, an impressive off-road machine whose price tag starts around $45,000. Depending on trim and options, the MSRP can flirt with $50,000. That is a lot of scratch to make up by delivering an odd load, as Tommy attempts to do.

It could be intuited that Tommy had bought this truck before he fell upon hard times, a terrible situation that has happened to many car buyers. However, this is an ad by an automaker. Simply defined, this company wants to sell new trucks.

When times are tough, or your employment situation is tenuous, make cautious decisions and minimize your financial risks. In other words, if you think you're about to get canned, buying a $50,000 truck might not be a good idea. Instead, if you need a truck to do odd jobs, consider buying used. Affordable, dependable trucks are readily available. Some late-model, pre-owned vehicles are on the market from the Tommys of the world who were lured into buying more than they could afford and had to trade in at a loss.

In our recent pickup truck tests, we have found that the domestic brands offer compelling choices. The Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, and Ram 1500 are all good machines, offered in abundant configurations to suit a wide range of needs. In fact, the Chevrolet Avalanche is our 2012 Top Pick for pickups. Heavy-duty models, like the featured Power Wagon, can be overkill for most non-commercial uses and they bring sacrifices in ride, handling, and fuel economy, as reflected in our truck Ratings.

Buying such a truck can feel like a patriotic act, though remember, despite that the "Imported from Detroit" ad slogan, Ram builds the 2500, 3500, Mega Cab and other full-size truck variants at its Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Mexico. So indeed, the truck is imported.

The bottom line: In tough times, consumers need to be smarter than ever in their purchase decisions. Look past the persuasive advertising to do your research and judge what is best for your finances and family now and over the long haul. Learn from Tommy: Don't overextend yourself and have to spend all your waking hours away from family as you try to make ends meet and earn enough dough for the next car payment.

Jeff Bartlett

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