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  • Ross Ballot

The new normal: Bronco's game-changing vehicle unveiling tactics

Usually our staff of Everyday Driver writers, myself very much included, tries to avoid current affairs or anything that solidifies a written piece as being stuck in time. It's much more our speed to put together a timeless article that can be used for reference and which is as unbiased as it is purposeful. We generally avoid news and tiptoe around anything breaking. We try to address current events as little as possible and when we do it's in the sense of their larger scope rather than how they affect that specific day, age, time, or the people involved. It's all a shameless effort to stay out of political and religious discussions, an attempt to keep the sensitive topics for those best equipped to cover them.

And so, when it comes to a written story, we tend to steer clear of new vehicle topics. But inside our little world of cars, one vehicle-- scratch that, one event-- has been so huge, so tide-shifting, so all-encompassing that it simply cannot be neglected. Contrary to my usual attempts at wit, I have nothing of that vein to say except to hit it head on: In the era of COVID-19 we have to become accustomed to experiencing new vehicle unveilings like we did the new Ford Bronco. We can't expect them to be this well-executed, either. And we have to reprogram our brains a bit to the online, socially-distant reveal instead of its elder auto show variant, that which is possibly of a bygone time.

Wait, back up...Bronco? Have you heard? That’s right: There's a new Bronco! We’re finally graced with the presence of a new, true Ford four-by-four that’s designed to be an off-road challenger to Jeep's Wrangler. But you're not learning about the Bronco in reading this; everybody and every outlet in the automotive media is talking about the all-new Bronco. And that’s exactly what Ford wants.

Thing we have to remember is that auto manufacturers exist to sell automobiles. Yes, we, the enthusiasts, are here to consume and occupy the niches in which the most sporting and capable offerings exist. But when it comes down to it, the more vehicles a carmaker sells, the better it is for them, their shareholders, their employees, and effectively everyone involved.

Which exactly why the online manner in which the Bronco was unveiled worked perfectly. By buying advertising time on Disney Plus, National Geographic, ESPN, ABC, and more, the marketing division was able to reach a wider audience than if the Bronco had been revealed at a lowly auto show (like the NAIAS at which we were originally *supposed* to see it). And by live-streaming the release on their own YouTube channel, Ford put their newest, biggest piece of news on full display for anybody in the world with internet access to witness.

On Monday night I sat down in front of my computer, eagerly awaiting the start of the Bronco show. But this wasn't the first time I had done something like this for a new car: I specifically remember rushing home to watch the C7 Corvette’s online unveiling. Seeing Chevy pull the wraps off a new Corvette on the internet, from the comfort of my couch, was nothing short of groundbreaking. In the past doing the same for other cars meant eagerly refreshing the slew of automotive news outlets until the press releases broke through. Likewise, earlier this year we watched as Lexus revealed the new IS sedan. Now think of the long-lead, drawn-out releases we’ve witnessed over the past few years. NSX and Supra come to mind. So does Gladiator. But those have all been largely at auto shows. And let's not talk about how Ford released a Bronco 2004.

The buildup to the Bronco’s release was unlike any other. Months of waiting. A Bronco-branded Instagram account appeared to hint at tidbits of the Bronco’s details. With it came endless teasers. Finally, the day we had been waiting for came.

Ford’s own YouTube channel was the go-to for the video reveal. A countdown clock lead us in on the livestream. At 8PM EST on July 13th, Bronco went live. The video itself was an extension of the commercial which had been released just prior. This led into a thoughtful, carefully executed history of Bronco, intertwining it with the new vehicles and then a deep dive into the new rigs. As expected, much of the video touched on their merits and, effectively, why you should want one. It tiptoed the line between nerdy and tech-spec-heavy enough to keep us die-hards entertained and yet light and showy enough to keep even those only casually interested in vehicles interested. That Ford even went so far as to integrate social media icons and pop culture stars on subsequent YouTube video only helped further the marketing tactics and global reach.

Like countless others I was fully, wholly captivated. The team that created the footage did an excellent job of showcasing the Bronco and Bronco Sport’s design and capabilities. They got in careful jabs at their competitors and even brought some decently difficult looking off-roading into the mix (though they were definitely going a bit too fast on the rocks at times; speed does always look good on camera). By the end of the eleven-minute video we knew as much about the Bronco Family (trademark, copyright, yada yada yada) as those of us who cared about the specs needed to know. Bronco was shaping up to be the real deal.

Ford clearly wanted a piece of the 4x4 pie, and for good reason. See: Ever-increasing Wrangler sales. They had to come out swinging, and swinging hard. Careful to show only the highly-optioned, upper-tier trim levels, Ford did with Bronco exactly what every brand wants to do: Show a reasonably expensive new, reimagined nameplate that gets you excited about the model and brand and gets you in the door even if you can’t afford that which graced the screen and forced you to drool all over your lap-- or keyboard, in my case.

It was so well done that it even scared Jeep. Last Saturday the intra-national rival dropped a proverbial bomb with an unexpected, mysterious Instagram post and subsequent release of a 392-badged, 6.4L Hemi-bearing Wrangler Unlimited “concept.” Jeep was keen to showcase its exclusive Sky One-Touch power roof. Er, sunroof. Since it’s basically a massive version of just that. And, of course, their 450-horsepower V8. Which, conveniently, is two more cylinders than Ford will be offering in the most powerful Bronco. Most important of all, to Ford, more talking about Wrangler meant more talking about Bronco. And vice versa. Any press is good press, and all that.

But this isn’t about Wrangler. Or Bronco. As I sat there on Monday night pondering how many vital organs I would have to sell to buy a Badlands-trim two-door Bronco with the 7-speed manual, I couldn't help but think that this whole ordeal wasn't as much about the vehicle as it was about the event. The buildup was fully mainstream, accessible for anyone and everyone to participate in. Bronco was once again a household name. The Bronco’s online reveal and the automotive infatuation which has transpired over the past few months and especially the past week directly reflects the world and time in which we live. It is, unquestionably (unless if you believe in the multiverse theory-- looking at you, Elon), unprecedented. The COVID era has brought about means of marketing and advertising which have been explored before, but nowhere near to this extent.

With this, Ford has made use of social media in the most effective way. Yet, at least. On a sales and "get the word out" front, that is. Instagram and other “modern media outlets” like YouTube and the DisneyPlus streaming service were incorporated into Ford's core marketing and advertising tactics more so than had ever been done before.

Case in point: A dedicated, brand-backed @fordbronco Instagram account appeared two weeks prior to the vehicle's unveiling, the collage below emblazoning the platform's pixels for us to wonder about. Each individual image was captioned, "The wild is closer than ever." Further cryptic images and messages followed. It kept us tuned in and held our attention daily. In doing this and in using these channels, Ford capitalized on the ability to reach the maximum number of people with the minimum amount of financial outlay.

As of this writing the “2021 Bronco Family World Premiere” video has nearly 1.7-million views on YouTube in under twenty-four hours of going live. It remains the #1 Trending video on YouTube. The brand’s channel has rallied to over two million subscribers. Coverage has run on seemingly every outlet there is, from tiny radio stations to full-fledged enthusiast forums. Had it been revealed in person, to the journalists, coverage would have been to a much lesser extent. Which, again, is counter to the brand’s desire for maximum exposure and maximum sales. It falls in line with much of the message perpetuated throughout the release: With the “family” of vehicles-- the two-door, four-door, and Sport-- there’s a Bronco for everyone.

This is a big win for Ford. More presence at less cost is, undoubtedly, a brand awareness victory.

And it doesn’t stop there: This set the precedent for things going forward as it’s easier to be more creative and pack more information into a short YouTube video and across social media platforms than it is to have a representative stand on a stage and tell everyone listening the brand cache, credentials, and spec sheet details while trying to keep them awake despite their eight cups of espresso from the Italian automakers' stands stationed in the corner of the show floor. Sure, those of us fortunate enough to attend auto shows when big unveilings happen will miss out on the sense of exclusivity of being there, in person, when the manufacturer pulls the (sometimes physical but usually metaphorical) wraps off a new vehicle. Especially one as exciting as the Bronco.

I remember being there when Jeep unveiled the Trackhawk-- the first big, exciting reveal I witnessed in person-- and the feeling of tension and relief in the room when it was as good as we all expected was palpable. I assume with Bronco it would have been even more so. In the age of COVID and social distancing, that sensation will be sorely missed. But we journalists are a small bunch. Giving a bit of the reveal to everyone with internet access broadens that. And, if it means sharing the fun with others, I'm all for it.

But that doesn't speak for the tangibles. How do the materials feel? How is the seating position? How are the proportions and the stance? There will be press drives, dealer shows, and demo days for that. And the intangibles? Like how the vehicle presents itself in person versus in photos? Same goes. But let’s not forget that even in the past it was months if not years from a vehicle’s release until we saw it in the flesh. That won’t change.

But I suppose that brings into question the double-edged sword of the current state of the automotive world. As a whole, vehicles are becoming more and more tech-heavy and as such inherently less and less involving; meanwhile, automakers are desperate to reel customers back in with anything they can to make cars exciting. The TRD Camry is proof of that. But here we have Ford, bringing an off-roader into the mix, with removable doors and roof panels, and an available manual transmission.

While the release played directly into the world of social media, the vehicle itself largely left the formula behind. It feels fresh, new, different. And yet, sitting down to watch a vehicle for which I’ve been genuinely excited to see come to life do so on the internet felt both underwhelming and concurrently thrilling. Like watching a movie you're seen before that’s airing on TV or listening to a favorite hit song on the radio, the Bronco release felt familiar and still like experiencing something in the car world for the first time. Like those movies or songs it was shared with everybody, not just the journalists and enthusiasts and the tiny slice of the population that is the automotive press and media. The online Bronco unveiling felt bigger than anything of its kind before. It felt global, universal; it felt like a celebration of the automobile and how far it has come and how far it will take us. And it all happened through modern marketing and media.

Where will it go from here? If the C7 Corvette's reveal was the start, this is the peak. It was an automotive event unlike any other. Obviously it won’t be the same for vehicles like the next Ford sedan (if we get another sedan from Ford…) but for those which capture widespread media attention this is the way of the future. Bronco broke through with a slew of new tech and with a new manner of being revealed to the world. It was handled beautifully by Ford from start to finish. NSX and Supra had us washed out by the end with a timetable that took what felt like forever. Ford made the Bronco’s release feel exciting from the start. The build-up was excellent as was the pay-off. We may never experience an unveiling like this again.

This year things have changed. Obviously in the age of COVID that’s a wide, sweeping blanket statement. And for us enthusiasts who care about the release of new vehicles and the automotive media as a whole, things changed drastically. Though auto shows may change going forward, the Bronco brought about some genuine good and excitement in an otherwise dark time and may have paved the way for the future. It’s unfortunate that in the time of widespread online reveals we, the insiders, lose out on the early access that made it once feel so special. But in the grand scheme of things, that's extremely insignificant. More important is that in doing so Ford has made the unveiling of a new vehicle something that can be shared with our friends and families. And isn’t that much of the point of this crazy thing we call our hobby, pastime, and profession? Maybe, maybe not. One thing’s for certain: Ford took a big swing with the Bronco’s reveal, in both the vehicle and the manner in which they went about it, and it could have gone very wrong. But it didn't. They knocked it clear out of the park.

Hi, my name is Ross. I write primarily for and co-host the Off the Road Again Podcast. As you can guess, I’m an off-road enthusiast/self-proclaimed expert and an ever-improving amateur autocrosser. My current car is an NC3 Miata Club PRHT but the joke goes that I’m perpetually looking for the next vehicle I will regret...



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