Ugly Truck is Back: The Return of an Unforgettable Campaign

Any automotive dealer who was around in the late ’80s to early ’90s remembers Don’t You Buy No Ugly TruckThe tier 3 campaign went down as one of the most successful and memorable commercials to date. Now, three decades later, Strong Automotive Merchandising is bringing Ugly Truck back to the market. Only this time, we’ve traded Granny for Smack.

The History of Ugly Truck

The year was 1987. One man hit the road with a briefcase, a box of videotapes, and a campaign that would dominate automotive TV for nearly a decade.

This man was Strong Associate Russ Randolph. He was commissioned as the exclusive salesman for the Don’t You Buy No Ugly Truck advertising campaign, the brainchild of my father Mike Strong and his colleague Tommy Charles. For years, Randolph traveled the country selling one of the most memorable commercial packages in dealer history.

To learn what sparked this abhorrence for unattractive trucks, we have to start with the popular fast food ad: Where’s the Beef? Inspired by the familiar, grandmotherly appeal of the Wendy’s commercial, Mike sought to capitalize on this trend and create the Ugly Truck television spot series.


Granny Debuts the Campaign

In the beginning, “Don’t You Buy No Ugly Truck” was only a slogan, launched primarily in the Birmingham market. Shortly after it was introduced, the phrase’s success made it clear that a spokesperson delivery would up the ante.

The first Ugly Truck casting call took place at a client’s dealership. The open-to-the-public event was a huge success, generating an unanticipated turnout and drawing hundreds of people into the Mazda dealership. While the client certainly profited from the additional brand exposure, it was us who scored biggest with the discovery of Granny.

Once Granny was embedded in the ads, the campaign’s popularity exploded. All across the nation, people who were alive in the ’80s will remember the iconic, lightheartedly patronizing figure warning them against the perils of purchasing an unsightly truck.

Smack is Back in 2018

By the turn of the century, Granny had all but disappeared. It wasn’t until 2017 that I began looking into reacquiring the rights to the campaign and reincarnating it into its present-day form.

Right away, I had the perfect talent in mind for the role. Instead of the bonnet-clad, Andy Griffith-style Granny of the past, the new Ugly Truck crusader would bear a closer resemblance to the campy style of Larry the Cable Guy. I commissioned Smack, a local favorite of my lake community, to play the part.

It would have been easy to recreate the Ugly Truck campaign without veering much from its original style. Our team realized, however, that past success doesn’t guarantee the same results for a remake. Ugly Truck worked well in its time, but today’s digital-savvy audience has come to expect something more interactive than the original approach.

Several months of planning went by, and Strong’s creative team had finally developed the master plan for Ugly Truck’s 2018 launch.

“We had to make sure we had the right guy with the right look and the right lines,” said Creative Director Tori Reid. “We didn’t want to rush into it just because this formula had worked before. It was important to create something that would get people’s attention in this day and age.”

Smack on an ugly truck

Get Started with Ugly Truck

The marketability of such a classic should not be underestimated. In many areas, people still remember Ugly Truck. This campaign capitalizes on nostalgia while having the unique ability to also appeal to younger audiences.

To learn more about packages, pricing and availability, contact us for information and samples.

About the author

John Paul Strong: For someone who spends an average of 135 days outside of the office meeting with clients, John Paul Strong remains the driving force behind his Birmingham-based advertising agency, Strong Automotive Merchandising. Strong began his career as a fresh-faced account executive at Martin Advertising. Learning much, but never satisfied, he convinced his father to partner with him in reopening their own advertising agency in 2004, catering exclusively to the automotive industry. The company started strong but humble. The original roster of 10 employees and eight clients has exploded today, growing to 100 full-time employees and more than 220 automotive dealers. And it hasn’t gone without notice. Along the way, Strong Automotive Merchandising has been recognized as a perennial winner in Birmingham’s Best Places to Work contest and as a Top 20 Agency among Google’s National Ad Partners. Yet, Strong still finds time to share what he’s learned along the way. As an avid writer, he has published two books in the Next Day Traffic series, along with more than 1,000 automotive-focused blog posts. He is also a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, and his success has been recognized in the Birmingham Business Journal’s 2013 “Top 40 Under 40” feature and the 2017 CEO Awards. The foundation for Strong’s career began at the University of Montevallo where he earned a bachelor’s degree in communication studies and advanced public speaking. Always staying ahead of the competition, Strong later went on to study in Harvard Business School’s Executive Education Program. Amid all of his endeavors, Strong always makes time for what matters most – his family. He is a proud husband to Amy, and father to Lilly Grace, Anne Charlotte, Hudson, and Ford.


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