2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Steven Bochenek

In late July, Lincoln hosted a press event at the twee, mock-Euro ski village of Blue Mountain, Ontario. Lincoln’s intentions were threefold: 1) talk about the rebirth of their brand 2) introduce the MKZ as the first shining three-dimensional and tangible example of that reborn nameplate and 3) demonstrate the MKZ Hybrid Preferred model’s fuel-efficiency potential. If you don’t care about the first topic – apologies, but the writer is an ad weenie and a bit of a blowhard – you can skip to the bolded subhead below.

To say that Lincoln’s constituency was dying off may be a tad insensitive but not inaccurate. But it’s an elephant in the room that would need to be addressed. So the new MKZ’s launch commercial – Lincoln’s first foray with their new brand – actually calls itself a phoenix.

Other manufacturers have had to perform similar overhauls: brands like Cadillac, Buick, Ford, Fiat and Audi all conjure significantly different pictures in our minds today than fifteen or twenty years ago. Some of these reputations were in much worse shape than Lincoln’s – consider Chrysler’s gutsy “imported from Detroit” positioning – yet all have impressively resurrected themselves.

Lincoln didn’t quite need to hit it out of the park because, to beat a hackneyed analogy closer to death, they were already on base. That said, the marketing itself is a home run. Lincoln’s targeting is exact and smart: self-starter types who appreciate luxury and want to be different, but quietly so. The expression they used was someone who ‘stands apart but doesn’t stand out’. (I marketed Saab to a similar psychographic in the early 2000s.) The ads are intelligent: speaking allegedly to the buyer’s sense of reason, but quietly creating desire with the accompanying imagery.

2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid
2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. Click image to enlarge

However (and speaking of resurrection, let’s bring that baseball analogy back) Lincoln has yet to win the game. In short, when you make a major brand promise like this, what matters most is follow-up. You know: proof equals pudding, walk the talk, money where mouth is… all that jazz. The best marketing in the world only works once if the product or service isn’t up to snuff. Example? The Eaton’s rebranding of the late ‘90s was daring and brilliant stuff, but they couldn’t back up the message in store, so the effort failed. Remember this? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=17dhVqhxdLc

Obviously a critical element of that follow-up is service. It’s a sound strategy. Ask any dealer on truth serum where they make their money and they won’t tell it’s selling cars. So Lincoln is carefully trying to educate their dealers to treat you especially well. It starts with the presentation of your keys in a specially crafted box. Where it ends is up to them to show us.

Mind, they have to convince you to visit a dealer first before they can give you any keys. Hence the marketing salvos we’ve seen. The ads were created by an agency that Lincoln formed strictly for itself, with expensive top-level talent focusing all their time on one brand, exclusively. They’re involved in every aspect of your ‘brand experience’, from the pretty ads to the aforementioned key box and dealer education.

Of course, at the risk of sounding obvious, there’s another critical element in the follow-up to the brand promise…

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