The History And Evolution Of Ford Bronco Advertising
Since the early days of the automotive industry, advertising has always been a crucial part of the equation surrounding a model's release. Making a good car in itself didn't necessarily result in strong sales if the manufacturer didn't also invest in promotion.
On the other hand, mediocre or outright bad cars were sometimes bought like hot cakes, simply because a given brand's marketing experts did a far better than its engineers or designers.
Fortunately, the Ford Bronco never really fell into either category, historically speaking. It was well-designed and engineered from the start, and it was always recognizable amongst the off-road crowd and sought-after by collectors, without requiring an aggressive marketing campaign.
Even the latest 2021 model has already reached rock star status among modern SUVs without the need for celebrity endorsement, enormous billboards, or billions spent on expensive commercials.
Of course, every car needs a marketing budget of some sort. Still, in the case of the 2021 Bronco and Bronco Sport, the model's legendary heritage and heralded place in the collective consciousness has worked better than any TV ad.
It 's very interesting to see how Bronco commercials have evolved over time. If you look at the model's 1966 TV commercial and 2021 promo clip, you can see many of the same patterns and same narratives. Since the Ford Bronco is named after "untrained range horses that roam freely in western North America," it's entirely logical that the wild horse would be both a symbol and the most commonly used motif in Bronco commercials.
Interestingly, Ford has two legendary nameplates with similar narratives – the Bronco and the Mustang. Still, the Mustang's advertising strategy abandoned the horse connection long ago, while the Bronco has kept it alive and well.
Here is a short history of the Ford Bronco's coolest commercials and magazine ads, so you can see what we are talking about yourself.
First Generation Bronco (1966 – 1977)
The Ford Bronco debuted in August of 1965 as a 1966 model and was immediately met with praise from the motoring press and enthusiastic interest from the buying public. Its release represented a bold step for Ford, which already had a successful pickup truck line but had never manufactured an SUV before. The Bronco had a unique chassis architecture, standard permanent all-wheel-drive and was sold in three distinct body styles – Wagon, Half Cab, and Roadster.
In this 1966 TV commercial, you can hear the narrator calling the Bronco Half Cab a "Sport Utility." Although we cannot claim this is the first time that SUV moniker was used, it was definitely one of the first, and Bronco is widely regarded as an early adopter of this term, along with the Jeep Wagoneer.
Second Generation Bronco (1978 – 1980)
Although the late '70s were generally a time of automotive downsizing, the 1977 Bronco grew drastically in size and displacement. It was built on a shortened F-100 truck chassis and shared that model's mechanics, front-end design, and interior. The concept of offering several body styles that made the first-generation model so famous was abandoned in favor of offering just one body style – a 3-door SUV with a lift-off rear hardtop.
In the late '70s, domestic manufacturers were hit by the oil crisis and environmental standards simultaneously, resulting in substantially lowered engine power outputs. Ford was no exception, and to compensate for its Bronco's lack of power and underwhelming performance, it offered numerous limited-run appearance packages, graphics options, and trim levels.
One of the most popular was the "Freewheelin" package, which was available on the F-150, Econoline vans, the small Courier pick up, and the Bronco. Customers could choose one of five primary colors and then get a rainbow stripe graphic package that was distinct for every model year.
Third Generation Bronco (1980 – 1986)
Although retaining the same overall structure of the '77-'79 models, the third-gen Bronco was nevertheless much improved and more efficient. It also used the F-Series chassis as a platform and had the exact dimensions of its predecessors, but it was lighter, better constructed, and more efficient than the outgoing generation.
In order to lower production costs, F-Series trucks and the Bronco shared a common front-end design, some body panels, and most of the mechanical structure. A significant improvement came in the form of an independent front suspension, which enhanced on-road capabilities and comfort.
Ford Bronco II (1983 – 1989)
During the third-generation production cycle, Ford decided to introduce a completely new model under the Bronco moniker. Called the Bronco II, it was a significantly smaller and lighter SUV designed to fight increasing foreign competition in the segment. The Bronco II was built on a Ford Ranger platform and featured two-wheel-drive as standard, with all-wheel drive being optional.
The Bronco II's sales were even better than the full-size model's, since the downsized SUV was smaller, more affordable, and appealed to a wide range of customers. Ford invested a lot into its marketing, especially after reports of nasty roll-over started piling up, which lead to the early demise of this innovative and forward-thinking, but flawed compact SUV.
Fourth Generation (1987 – 1991)
Although Ford has always considered 1987 to be the beginning of an entirely new Bronco generation, in truth the Bronco's new generation was a thorough restyling inside and out, and not really much more. With a unique front-end design, modern interior, details, and trim packages, the Bronco looked fresh, yet the shortened F-100 platform architecture remained as the same underpinning featured by the previous generation.
During this period, Ford saw an increase in sales of the upscale trim levels -- especially the Eddie Bauer edition, which was introduced as an option in 1985. This marked a noticeable shift in the SUV class -- bare bones models were no longer in demand. Instead, buyers wanted luxury trim features that were similar to the Jeep Grand Wagoneer or Range Rover.
Fifth Generation (1991 to 1996)
Faced with slow sales, as well as the enormous success of its own Ford Explorer SUV, Ford didn't want to invest in a genuinely brand new model for the Bronco's fifth and (for the time being) final generation, which was introduced in 1991. By the early '90s, SUVs had experienced a definite change in direction, with prospective customers seeking a modern design, luxury features, and the comfort of a passenger car.
Here's a very cool Mexican TV ad.
In contrast, despite looking contemporary, the Bronco was largely an old-school off-roader with a live rear axle, rugged but dependable mechanics, and a relatively primitive driving experience. It was evident that its time was up.
Besides obligatory brochures and promo material, Ford didn't even invest in marketing, TV commercials, and advertising. At that time, the model accidentally received an enormous amount of unique TV exposure when it served as O.J. Simpson's getaway car in an infamous car chase that was broadcast on live TV.
Modern Bronco (2021 - )
Ever since 2004 and the release of the Ford Bronco Concept vehicle, Ford had known that emotions and support surrounding this legendary nameplate remained very strong.
Looking back at the early 2000s, the market wanted comfortable and soft SUVs, so traditional off-roaders were constantly losing ground. Today, more than a decade and a half later, we're once again ready to embrace the magic of a super capable, rugged, and retro-futuristic SUV and reintroduce ourselves to the wonders of actual off-road driving, camping trips, and overland expeditions.
As you probably know, magazine ads are largely a thing of the past, and the primary promotional tools are now the internet and YouTube. That's why we have this magnificent promotional clip, and not a classic TV commercial before 6 o'clock news.