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The original Marlboro Man has ridden into the sunset, but an advertising icon every bit as rugged rumbles across our TV screens every night.

His name is Pickup Truck Man.

Like the Marlboro Man, Pickup Truck Man prefers open spaces to cramped city life. He believes in an honest day's work. He is a man of few words, a man who sweats a lot and could use a shave.

He is actually several men, all of whom exhibit a knack for heroism. In commercials, he roams the countryside in his pickup truck, braving blizzards, forest fires and other calamities, looking for opportunities to help people in need.

In a spot for the GMC Sierra, he rescues a group of men from a forest fire. In another, he hauls a sunken boat from the water. In a Chevrolet Silverado ad, he pulls both a tow truck and a car out of a ditch during a snowstorm. "I gotta get me one of those," the tow truck driver quips.

Pickup truck spots have always featured masculine images, but nowadays they are pumping out more testosterone than ever. They have to, because auto makers are turning out bigger, more powerful trucks. Macho ads are also a way to distinguish pickups from SUVs, vans and new hybrid vehicles.

"It's very important in the truck category to make sure that your truck comes across as a credible, tough vehicle," says Norman Melamed, managing partner at Young & Rubicam in Toronto, which handles advertising for Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd.

It must be effective advertising, because pickup trucks are consistently among the best-selling vehicles in Canada. But it's also wonderful comedy. There is so much hyper-masculine imagery in pickup truck ads these days that the genre is starting to parody itself.

"It's like Saturday Night Live did the ads," says Gary Prouk, a partner with Sebastian Consultancy in Toronto.

"I have a place in the country and the guys that drive trucks sure don't look like that or do those things. The real guys that I see driving trucks are wearing Led Zeppelin Victory Tour T-shirts . . . with their jeans tucked into their sneakers and the laces undone."

But not Pickup Truck Man.

In Ford's newest ad for its F-350 Super Duty pickup, a gravelly voiced announcer asks, "Did you ever see that movie, You've Got Mail, where this guy and girl fall in love e-mailing each other a bunch of times? Anyway, they finally meet face-to-face and there's this big romantic kiss. Do you know the movie I'm talking about? Did you ever see that one? Well, this guy didn't."

Cut to a close-up of a stern-faced man who looks like he just emerged from a coal mine. In fact, he's been hauling wood around the countryside in his truck and building a fence by hand, which apparently leaves him no time to watch sissy romantic movies.

Is Ford serious? Only partly. The point is to convey that the truck, like the guy, is hard working. "The spot . . . is obviously tongue-in-cheek," Mr. Melamed says. But some viewers will take it literally and identify with the guy in the ad, he adds.

Pickup truck commercials, many of which are created in the United States, almost always celebrate the working class hero. The images and aspirations could have been lifted from a fairy tale.

"Do people rely on you to come to their rescue? If so, you need a truck that's able to tackle every challenge with unyielding grace," reads the copy on Ford Canada's Web site. "The new 2001 Super Duty trucks have the kind of power and style you need to pull off a heroic and happy ending every time."

Power and style are fine, but what about size? A commercial for the Silverado Heavy Duty pickup shows a gigantic truck superimposed on a background of tiny barns, horses and people, making it look like a scene from that old TV show, Land of the Giants. The message: Buy this truck and get respect.

Not everybody buys a pickup because they need to haul around loads of drywall. Some buyers are seeking an image. It says "you're capable of being there when somebody needs you," says Mike Smith, a creative director at BBDO Canada, which handles advertising for DaimlerChrysler Canada Inc.

Dave Kelso has owned a pickup for years. He drove one when he was a carpenter, and kept driving one even after he entered the advertising business about 20 years ago. As co-national creative director at ad agency MacLaren McCann in Toronto, he uses his Chevy half-ton to, among other things, transport co-workers to meetings with client General Motors of Canada Ltd. in Oshawa, Ont.

"It's like owning a Porsche," he says. "You can't go 200 miles an hour anywhere in Canada but you could if you wanted to. I could throw a skid of two-by-fours in the back of my truck if I wanted to."

Follow John Heinzl on Twitter: @johnheinzlOpens in a new window

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