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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. For years, Randolph traveled the country selling the most successful syndicated truck program 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, Strong 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 2019

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 10-market test launch.

“We had to make sure we had the right guy with the right look and the right lines,” said the agency’s creative lead. “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.

Make Your Dealership The One They Remember

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John Paul Strong

John Paul Strong combines his two decades of automotive marketing experience with a team of more than 150 professionals as owner and CEO of Strong Automotive.

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