Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Iacocca’s Ram

“Why would Dodge manufacture a car called Ram?” This is one of those odd-duck questions that came up recently on one of my discussion groups. (The same fellow also asked, “Why are black olives packed in cans and green olives come in jars?” and “Shampoo is available in many colors, why is the lather on your head always white?” It’s questions like this that keep psychiatrists in business.)

In this case, though, there’s a great brand story behind the question. And thank the Lord for Google.

According to the late Mike Sealy (among others), the Dodge Brothers Motor Vehicle Company (one of Daimler Chrysler’s forerunners) produced trucks since 1917. Dodge actually used a ram’s head hood ornament back in 1933 to characterize its trucks as rugged vehicles. The original hood ornament was designed by Avard Fairbanks, who was influenced by the Art Deco motifs popular during the 1920s and ‘30s.

The symbol was dropped in the 1950s.

The brand icon was resurrected for 1981 when Lee Iacocca (then ChryslerPresident and CEO) and Dodge's marketing team decided to name Dodge's trucks after the tough beast and brought back the old mascot when it re-designed the Series D pick-‘em-up trucks. Re-shaped again and again, Dodge Ram trucks have been named Motor Trend magazine’s Truck of the Year twice. The second-generation Ram won the award in 1994. The third-generation Ram Heavy Duty won the 2003 award.

Now on the face of it, my disccusion-group colleague asked a silly question. But according to Fairbanks’s family, the story goes like this:

For two weeks father worked on all sorts of models from mythology creatures to various powerful animals. Finally, he called the designers and Mr. Chrysler in to see three models of a Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep, a ram. He proposed the charging one. They asked, “Why a ram?” Father responded, “It is sure-footed; it’s the King of the Trail; it won’t be challenged by anything.”

They nodded their heads. Then father, with a bit of corny humor, added, “And if you were on the trail and saw that ram charging down on you, what would you think? DODGE!” To which Walter Chrysler excitedly replied, “THAT’S IT! THE RAM GOES ON THE DODGE!”

It’s not Lee Iacocca’s ram at all – it’s Walter Chrysler’s. And it's a great brand story.

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