Fiat Chrysler Automobiles launched its Ram trucks brand as a standalone division in 2009, putting the brand on a fast track and allowing it to focus on its core business, markets and customers. Separating Ram from Dodge paid off—the dedicated truck brand stands for dependability, capability and efficiency with a strong core market in North America and a fast-growing presence internationally.
America’s longest-lasting line of pickups and light commercial vans is trying a new tack to get an edge in the accelerating war for customers: making the new 2019 Ram 1500 a finely-tuned environment for playing music, with sound quality matching the original recording by the producer.
How can anyone know? Because Ram has partnered with Harman Kardon, a brand of Harman, the Samsung-owned audio specialist, to recruit Grammy Award-winning Nashville music producer Dave Cobb to create exactly the optimal audio environment. The companies and Cobb highlighted their collaboration last month at a “reveal” event held on Nashville’s famous Music Row.
Cobb previously flew to Michigan and met with Ram designers and Harman Kardon engineers to tune the system in the lab where pre-production testing was taking place. He adjusted all the calibrations of the system so that the music sounds exactly as it was recorded and the experience of listening to it is exactly how the artist intended it to be. It’s all in service of creating the best customer experience for the Ram 1500 owner.
“The biggest point was to make the sound feel as it was intended,” Jeff Summers, head of Ram advertising, told brandchannel. “A lot of times in vehicles it’s created in the way that sounds best based on people’s opinions. In this case, we leveraged the opinion of someone who creates that sound every day as intended. The authenticity and specific notes, the way in which the music is delivered, was replicated to best of his ability by this producer and the sound that’s really driving Nashville these days.
We spoke with Summers and Bill Wyman, vice president of global marketing for Harman Car Audio, about how fine-tuning music elevates the Ram customer experience.
What’s different about this platform?
Summers: It’s an innovative and creative collaboration. Ram has been a standalone brand since 2009. Since that time it’s been important for us to establish credibility in a lot of different lifestyle areas, specifically music and country music, to create those meaningful and connected experiences with fans as we grow our brand. Country music is a natural, so many people listen to it in their trucks. There’s a lot of authenticity in country music, and as a brand trying to establish authenticity is important. And creating those relationships in the space became important to us.
What did Dave Cobb bring to the partnership?
Summers: A lot of those big country hits have been produced and recorded by Dave Cobb. He’s a great Ram fan and tastemaker in country music. We thought about how do you create a connection through Nashville with country but also music ranging from Americana to folk to rock that’s coming out of Nashville, and Dave Cobb is central to all of that.
How do you create a differentiated experience inside the cab?
Summers: We really started from a ‘what if?’ question. What if we created an experience within the cab of a Ram truck that 100% resembled the way the music was intended to sound as it was produced and recorded inside RCA Studio A, this famous studio? And what if the experience inside the Ram truck was calibrated by the producer in Nashville, Dave Cobb? That’s where it started. We started with 19 speakers and 900 watts and the best listening experience of any truck ever.
Wyman: This is the first time Harman Kardon was going to be in a Ram truck. We wanted to make a big statement. Where was there common ground between the brands? What unique experience could we bring to the marketplace? The idea of putting the cabin inside of Studio A really set our team on fire. They were super-excited about doing something that never had been done in this space. The synergies around a big vision and how to bring that to life and also making sure that everyone who gets into the truck hears something that they may not have expected to hear, ties them a bit closer to something that people are incredibly passionate about: music artists and a Grammy Award-winning music producer.
What’s the significance of this for the Ram brand?
Wyman: This is the first time for a Harman Kardon system with a producer who can make it sound how he and the artist want to make it sound in the vehicle. Our engineers are some of the best acoustic engineers in the world but also are musicians. It’s a double whammy for them—really understanding what production of music inside a famous studio is like; and sitting beside a star.
Summers: Not many people are even going to know what RCA Studio A sound is. We’re tapping into an expert in the area who can leverage everything in the truck, including our 12-inch screen and surround-sound, and based on his ear and his ability to calibrate in real time… with scientists, engineers and musicians. It’s almost like what it was in Studio A, calibrating to exact specifications of what Dave would produce out of Studio A. And his ability to manage all the different tonalities of the truck.
How are you leveraging this from a brand storytelling point of view?
Summers: We’ve already found a couple of ways to do it. It’s finding the most impactful ways to communicate this story to the right people. The Ram brand is involved in a number of different lifestlye partnerships and activities, such as the CMT Music Awards, Kentucky Derby, national finals rodeo—all of those people are music fans and that gives us the opportunity to talk about this relationship in ways that are particular to that lifestyle.
Doing the Music Road Nashville reveal last month. we were able to bring in a Who’s Who of Nashville to Studio A to do an event with Dave Cobb in his house. We really wanted it to feel exclusive, like something the music industry could rally around, because it was in celebration of them. The next logical place was in New York in the Harman store during the New York Auto Show, and to bring to life this collaboration to kickstart what we want to do for the rest of the year.
Wyman: It’s really important to find those places where you can connect with consumers in their lifestyle and finding key events like the reveal on Music Row and on Madison Avenue and other places we can partner up, where we see consumers where they want to be met with the music experience. It’s seamlessly and authentically being where they want to be.