As often as we all say we can't stand drama, Americans sure do eat it up. We love conflict and rivalries -- and we get it in just about every facet of life these days. To be fair, rivalries, make everything that much more entertaining.
What would the NFL have been in recent years without the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry? What would the NBA have been without Magic versus Bird? Or golf without Arnold Palmer versus Jack Nicklaus and, later, Tiger Woods versus Phil Mickelson?
The same can be said for business rivalries: Union Pacific Railroad versus Central Pacific, McDonald's versus Burger King. And of course, one of the greatest rivalries in business: Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) versus General Motors (NYSE:GM). Business rivalries are arguably even more important, as intense competition benefits consumers in the form of product innovation or lower prices.
Let's look at the latest punch thrown in the intense Detroit rivalry and why it should be taken with a grain of salt.
Poking the F-150 bear
General Motors has released a lengthy series of ads designed to poke at the aluminum F-150, Ford's bread-and-butter profit machine. If you haven't seen it, you should watch the latest ad below.
That ad is running on both 30- and 60-second commercials spread across NASCAR programming, MLB, NHL finals, and all over ESPN in general. According to Automotive News, the ad will also run longer versions in 2,400 movie theaters nationally, with print ads slated for primary full-size truck markets such as Texas.
Let's give credit where credit is due: This is a very compelling advertisement -- at least at first glance.
Compelling isn't always practical
Let me take you back to an experience I had while working in marketing. We had a brilliant product we were just about to push with advertising, and to top it off, we made a demonstration. The product was essentially a funnel that wouldn't allow water to pass through, but would allow gasoline to filter through, giving a consumer much cleaner gasoline in their small engine.
To make a compelling demonstration, we had potential business buyers stand under the funnel while we poured a gallon of water into the funnel. Magically, nothing poured onto the buyer, and it was one impressive demo that probably sold a lot of product.
What people didn't see was the rest of us on the sidelines, wide-eyed, holding our breath. We knew the product worked great, and exactly as intended, but it wasn't meant for such an exercise. One shake in the wrong direction with more water weight in the funnel than intended -- remember, it was designed for a high percentage of fuel and to hold back some water -- could have unleashed a stream of water onto the potential buyer.
The point of the story is that compelling demonstrations aren't usually practical. Rather, ads like this often have more in common with overexaggerated "Seen on TV" infomercials where people aren't able to open a jar of mayonnaise without making a Chernobyl scene in the kitchen.
Let's poke holes
How practical is dropping 825 pounds of sharp-cornered landscaping stones into a truck bed from five feet high? Were General Motors' Chevrolet marketing folks on the sideline watching, waiting, and hoping the host pushed the toolbox at the perfect angle, so the corner of it hit consistently at a perfect angle in both truck beds? How would the result change with a simple bed liner, which wasn't included in the demonstration?
Or maybe we should ask ourselves if this ad campaign is a sign of the U.S. new-vehicle market reaching its peak -- a market that drives the vast majority of Ford's and GM's profit, mind you -- and that competition for sales is heating up? Does this ad campaign have anything to do with Ford beating GM in sales? Let's look at some numbers while considering that last question.
Last month, sales of the Silverado were down 12.7% to 45,035 units, while the F-Series posted a 9% gain to 67,412 units. That trend holds true for the year-to-date figures, with the F-Series up 7.4% to 324,307 and Silverado sales dropping slightly to just under 224,000.
To be fair, let's combine sales of the Chevrolet Silverado and its sister truck, the GMC Sierra, and zoom out a bit.
Through May 2016, the F-Series outsold the Silverado and Sierra combined, 324,307 units to 313,294. In fact, the F-Series has outsold the two GM sister trucks combined each year starting in 2010. While looking at these numbers, though, I kept digging, and something funny happened.
Would you believe it if I told you that since the beginning of 1998, the difference in sales between the F-Series and GM's sister trucks was a meager 90,000 units? That amount is less than one-and-a-half months' of F-Series sales. It's true: Despite the F-Series winning the battle each of the last six years, since 1998 the GM trucks combined to sell 13.47 million units to the F-Series' 13.38 million.
A rivalry for the ages
Make no mistake, Detroit's two largest automakers are a rivalry for the ages. Their feud between the Mustang and Camaro was, and to some degree still is, a classic. The F-150 and Chevrolet Silverado rivalry is arguably the most intense in the automotive industry right now, and one of the most intriguing thanks to the full-size truck segment being the most profitable segment in the auto business.
While our lives are unmistakably better for having rivalries such as Ford versus GM, it's because of the sheer closeness of the rivalry, and the amount of profits at stake, that we have to take ads like GM's recent campaign with a grain of salt -- or rather, in this case, an 825-pound bag of salt.