• Ford Minivan Ad Crashes After Chrysler's Challenge
  • March 16, 2004
  • Law Firm: Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Ford's advertisement for its Freestar Minivan, featuring car magazine journalist and radio personality Rick Titus, was quickly pulled off the air after Ford received a cease and desist letter from rival Chrysler. Ford also received complaints from the editor of Car and Driver magazine who was unhappy that the ad referred to Mr. Titus as a journalist.

    The advertisement showed Mr. Titus, also the host of the radio program "Drivers Talk Radio," helping a struggling mom fold down the third row of seats in her Dodge Caravan. Chrysler, the company that owns the Dodge brand, complained that the commercial was misleading because it implied that Chrysler minivans (and others) do not have seats that fold down flat, and that only Ford minivans have a fold-flat feature. Chrysler had just introduced the second and third row fold-flat feature early this year in its 2005 models. In addition, Chrysler reported that, contrary to Ford's portrayal, its representatives were able to fold down all the seats of the Caravan in about 20 seconds.

    Upon learning of the features on the new 2005 Caravan, Ford ceased running the national spots in the beginning of February, but requested its dealer groups to stop running the regional advertising only after it received Chrysler's recent letter.

    The editor of Road and Track magazine stated in his letter to Ford that "To have someone labeled as an automotive journalist who is acting as a sales person crossed the line."

    Significance: Advertisers who engage in high-profile comparative advertising must be especially careful to ensure that the competitor's product accurately represents the current marketed version. Advertisers must also be certain to test their claims, preferably by objective third parties, to make sure their claims are true. Finally, advertisers should know that using journalists, critics, or other purportedly objective commentators to advertise products or services related to their occupation could cause problems.