During homecoming festivities at Prairie View A&M University in Texas and North Carolina Central University in Durham last fall, Ford Motor Co. invited football fans to check out a tailgate — and the rest of its F-150, too.

Ford provided more than 500 F-150 test drives to fans at the two schools and at the annual Southern Heritage Classic, which attracted nearly 50,000 spectators in Memphis, Tenn., through its Historically Black Colleges and Universities Truck Tour.

“As we talk about reaching and growing, it makes sense to talk about growth audiences,” Damoni Hurt, Ford’s cross-brand strategy and growth audience manager, told Automotive News. “We do well with our core; we always strive to do better. But some of the bigger opportunities to grow our brand and grow our market share, grow our sales, are to some audiences that we should talk to in a different and more meaningful way.”

That sort of authentic outreach, through experiential marketing as well as traditional ads, has helped Ford’s F-Series pickups gain momentum among Black consumers in recent years. The F-Series is on pace to displace the Toyota Camry as the No. 1 nameplate among Black buyers this year, up from fourth place in 2019, according to IHS Markit registration data through June.

Marc Bland, IHS Markit’s chief diversity officer, has been pushing automakers to target Black audiences with tailored campaigns for their full-size pickups. Hispanics have traditionally been viewed as loyal pickup buyers, Bland said, but the Black community is a new frontier for the segment that could lead to further sales growth for brands that engage them.

Strong sales to Black buyers can help the F-Series fortify its position atop the industry against challenges from its traditional rivals and a number of startups planning