BUENOS AIRES (AdAge.com) -- Tapping into Latin America's literary tradition of magic realism, Ford Motor Co. is bringing wondrous tales along with trucks to little-used theaters in rural Argentina.
Ford and its agency JWT were inspired to write plays by the launch of the latest Ford Ranger compact pickup, because there wasn't much to say about the truck itself.
"We looked at the so-called new truck and realized only its front bumpers were new," said Gonzalo Vecino, JWT's co-chief creative director in Buenos Aires. "So we decided we had to work on a feature only this truck had: its relationship with people and consumers. We asked people to do what they do best besides working: tell stories."
Ford created a Web site where people could post the stories, legends and fables passed down in the oral tradition of the countryside, similar to the way a Ford Ranger may be handed from one family member to another, said Pablo Alvarez Travieso, JWT's other co-chief creative director.
From more than 1,000 tales submitted, 10 were shortlisted, and a final 3 were chosen to be transformed into 25-minute plays by playwrights hired for the job. Ford and JWT produced the plays and took them to four towns in the province of Buenos Aires ranging in size from 35,000 to 170,000 people. Local Ford dealers helped bring in the audience, with an average of 500 to 800 people, to watch all three plays in a single performance.
Ricardo Flaminni, Ford's marketing manager, said the plays have been so popular that local mayors have contacted Ford and asked if the dramas can come to their towns, too. As a result, Ford is having new plays written and plans to take them to more cities beyond the original four, and add the theater effort in the company's corporate social responsibility program in Argentina.
The plays all have a strong element of the realismo magico that pervades Latin American culture. One play, "Amor Galactico," is based on a local legend about the luz mala ("bad light") that appears at night and kills anyone who approaches it. This superstition likely arose from the reflection of animals' bleached bones in the moonlight amid the dark solitude of Argentina's sweeping plains, but it makes a good story.
In the Ford version, Marcos and Laura are driving their Ford Ranger truck through the countryside when they spot the luz mala on the horizon. They approach and discover the light is really coming from a UFO, and they see another young couple just like them descend from the spaceship.
The four quickly become friends and decide to swap places, with Marcos and Laura returning in the UFO to an unknown universe. The only question is, what about the truck? For Marcos, that's a deal breaker, and the Ford Ranger ends up going along to the new planet, too.
A few scenes in the plays are filmed and cut into the live action on stage, which enables Marcos and Laura, for instance, to drive their truck. In one of the other plays, "The Postman," the spirit of a former village mail carrier now delivers letters containing mysterious revelations.
The third, "Seller of Illusions," takes place during a severe drought that ravages the countryside, and it tells the story of two women who seek to profit from the local peoples' parched desperation by selling rain.
Building market share
"It's a very expensive way of reaching people, more expensive than a TV spot, but it's a high-quality contact we needed to have," Flaminni said of Ford's foray into rural theater. "And we performed very well, both in top-of-mind and sales."
He declined to give sales figures, but the main season for investing in heavy equipment such as trucks in the agricultural sector is approaching. The Ford Ranger is fighting its way back to popularity after seeing its share of Argentina's pickup truck market drop to about 25 percent in 2009 from a high of 35 percent five years earlier.
Ford hopes to get the Ranger back up to 30 percent in 2010, taking on the market-leading Toyota Hilux, which has a 30 percent share. Overall, Ford holds a 14 percent share of Argentina's vehicle market.