On Monday night, Ford officially revealed its highly anticipated Bronco brand, consisting of three new vehicles capable of being taken off-road into the wilderness, should drivers choose.
The Bronco may be best remembered as the vehicle from perhaps the most infamous car chase in history: when O.J. Simpson sat in the back of his friend Al Cowlings’ white Bronco pursued by the LAPD down the Santa Ana Freeway in 1994. But now, Ford is hoping to thread the needle, marketing the vehicle to the public while appeasing diehard fans who have continued to follow it since it was taken off the market almost 25 years ago.
Most importantly, Ford is hoping to take away market share from Jeep and its coveted off-road offerings. So far, Ford has made clear this isn’t a nostalgia play or a move toward exclusivity like the brand’s limited-production GT500.
“Our target audience is not someone who wants a retro-restored Bronco—it’s someone who’s looking for innovation,” said Matt VanDyke, director of U.S. marketing at Ford. “There’s a spirit of authenticity that we had to be careful we designed into it, but it has to be forward-thinking. We want to reach a mass audience with this.”
In a partnership with Disney, the Bronco’s reveal took place across ABC, ESPN and National Geographic, with each network running a separate 3-minute ad during the first commercial break after 8 p.m. on Monday.
Although not exactly a surprise to anyone following the industry, it marks the official announcement of three new vehicles under the Bronco brand: two-door and four-door models, and the Bronco Sport. The Bronco’s tagline is “Built Wild.”
Although Ford may never admit it, the company’s newest brand does have one distinct advantage. Broadly speaking, any auto buyer born before 1985 can at least picture a Ford Bronco thanks to the Simpson chase. It’s widely estimated that nearly 95 million people watched the former NFL running back and Hall of Famer’s low-speed chase after being accused of killing ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson.
“Ford is very happy that everybody already has some idea of what a Ford Bronco is,” said Alexander Edwards, president of the auto consulting firm Strategic Vision. “It was a car chase. A very serious tragedy happened, but that’s not what the Bronco was connected to.”
So far, the Ford brand has stumbled in avoiding Simpson, awkwardly (and harmlessly) announcing the reveal of the Bronco on Simpson’s birthday, before moving it to Monday. Although the brand claims the chase didn’t kill the vehicle—sales had been dwindling, and Ford instead chose to push its new, four-door Explorer SUV—the vehicle was suspiciously discontinued two years after the incident.
“Nostalgia for the Bronco is good, but it’s also nuanced,” said Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.com. “You can’t necessarily ignore the elephant in the room.”
Oh, but they’ll try. Instead of letting O.J. eat up the headlines, Ford, in its marketing and prerelease communications, dove into the archives, releasing a brand manifesto for the Bronco. In a teaser video released on Instagram, Ford spokesperson Bryan Cranston says the Bronco is a vehicle that “can look adventure in the eye and give it a firm handshake,” with shots of wild horses and clay red mountains. It’s a shift Ford hopes will redirect attention toward the Bronco’s glory years of the late ’60s and ’70s and the future of the brand—anything but that one incident in the ’90s.
Not Ford’s first rodeo
Like everything else in 2020, Ford’s announcement didn’t quite go as planned. The brand was going to reveal the Bronco at the North American Auto Show in Detroit, but the Covid-19 pandemic derailed that.