By Don Klein
Award-winning ad man-cum-auto journalist Don Klein knows a good (or bad) car commercial when he sees one; the Ad Section is his space to tell you what he thinks of the latest spots. The ad’s rating is depicted via the shift pattern at the bottom, but everyone has an opinion when it comes to advertising, so hit Backfires below and tell us what you think, too.
Ford desperately wants to change the way people think about Lincoln. Why? Because it wants a bigger piece of the profitable luxury pie, and so it needs a contender that resonates with today’s young premium buyer. But Lincoln’s image with this demographic isn’t just tarnished, it’s pitted down to the bare metal. All those years of making livery-service Town Cars and glorified Mercurys for old people has taken its toll, so the powers that be decided to put some distance between Lincoln and the Mother Brand by cherry-picking from the former’s 90-year history and using some creative sleight of hand to create a new image. Does it work? Let’s look at the 60-second version of the commercial and decide.
We open on a haunting shot of Abe Lincoln walking through the fog. (Why, I wonder. To capitalize on Steven Spielberg’s hot biopic as a quick way to register the name?) Regardless, Abe-rilla in the Mist lasts just a few seconds before a series of rapid fire cuts of early Lincoln models and badging clearly sets the stage for the commercial’s major message: The brand has been a product innovator and style trendsetter throughout its history, and it wants you to think it still is. “This is about moving forward by looking back,” the voiceover tells us.
Meanwhile, we’re treated to a smorgasbord of gorgeous visuals of the 2013 MKZ. Some are literal, some are symbolic, and some are puzzling (the owl that emerges from the car’s hood after the seatbelt airbag goes off is supposed to represent what? The soul of the guy who maybe died in the crash?) The spot ends with a graphic proclaiming the introduction of the Lincoln Motor Company and never—not once—is the MKZ mentioned by name.
Before going any further, let me say that the production values of this commercial are phenomenal. Every shot is perfect. Ditto the sound track. The lighting, camera angles, and choice of visuals are all spot on. The casting is wonderful (the girl’s name is Melissa Stetten, by the way) and the editing is top-notch. True, it’s got more cuts than a drunk trying to juggle five machetes, but they work seamlessly. But it’s going to take a lot more than pretty pictures and cleverly turned phrases to get affluent younger buyers to put Lincoln on their shopping lists along with Infiniti, Lexus, Audi, and, yes, Cadillac. It’s going to take a stream of excellent, relevant products plus a well-executed and targeted multi-platform marketing effort. Oh, and a ton of money. Of course, Lincoln knows this and claims they’re all over it, right down to a Jimmy Fallon Twitter contest and a “personal concierge” to help you through the buying process.
But does all the “moving forward” business really have anything to do with looking back to Lincoln’s history? Does an open-to-buy 40-year-old really care if Lincoln made cool luxury cars before he was born—and then stopped making anything impressive at all? And despite the official name change to Lincoln Motor Company, Ford still wholly owns it, and doesn’t the MKZ still share its platform with the Fusion? Worse, virtually all of the technology showcased in the commercial was pioneered by other brands: Chrysler had pushbutton gear selectors in the mid ’50s and huge panoramic sliding roofs have been offered in a lot of other cars. And then there’s that stingray. Cool shot, but confusing unless there’s a split-window coupe in Lincoln’s future.
The MKZ on paper seems like an interesting car with lots of category-caliber game. (That impression changes once you drive it; our first test is here.) Of course, styling is always a matter of taste, but the early consensus—and I agree—is that this new model is way better to look at than its predecessor. But the selective harkening back to the marque’s glory days and the sketchy claims of product innovation heritage strike me more like an in-house pep rally piece than a strategic consumer marketing tool. Still, the imagery, pacing, quality ,and music definitely impress. In fact, the commercial gave me a serious case of the “I wants.” Granted, the desire it sparked is for a ’56 Continental Mark II, but hey—it got me thinkin’ Lincoln. And that’s a start.
RATING: FOURTH GEAR
Source: Car & Driver