Ford aims for Lincoln rebound with new cars, ads

Lincoln brand changes name to evoke its history as critical new MKZ goes on sale


DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. wants to place its lagging Lincoln nameplate back on consumers’ shopping lists with an ambitious marketing campaign that draws on its heritage and includes the upscale brand’s first-ever Super Bowl spot.

The campaign blitz got under way on Monday and features a 60-second TV commercial that opens with an image of an actor playing Abraham Lincoln, the U.S. president after whom the brand is named. Ford has also renamed the brand the Lincoln Motor Co., which was its original name when Ford purchased it in 1922. Since 1940 it had been the Lincoln Division of the Ford Motor Co.

The moves are part of the second-largest U.S. automaker’s latest effort to reinvent Lincoln two decades after its sales peak. Lincoln faces challenges in the increasingly competitive U.S. luxury vehicle market, starting with its musty brand image.

In 2011, Lincoln sales were just 85,643 — less than half the amount sold by Lexus, Toyota Motor Co.’s upscale brand.

“Nobody is waiting for the next ad message from Lincoln,” Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln marketing, said in an interview. “We have to shout from the rooftops.”

Under Chief Executive Alan Mulally, Ford pruned its stable of brands over the last six years to pay for its financial turnaround. Ford initially focused on its mainstream lineup but in the last few years began to turn its attention to Lincoln.

By 2015, Ford will launch seven new or revamped Lincolns, starting with the new MKZ sedan, which will be in dealerships by the end of this month. Mr. Mulally and Jim Farley, Ford’s global marketing chief and new head of Lincoln, marked the campaign’s launch in New York’s Lincoln Center Plaza on Monday.

The MKZ will start at $35,925, or about the same as its archrival, the Lexus ES 350. A hybrid version is the same price.  

A commercial during the Super Bowl, the most heavily watched annual event on U.S. television, is designed to quickly reach a large, broad audience and highlight the brand’s new direction.

Ford wants to lower the average age of Lincoln buyers to 57 from 65 years old, and raise the target average income more than 50 percent to nearly $160,000 a year.

“This is how Lincoln started. This is how we will become great again,” Ford says in print advertisements that began appearing in major newspapers and online media Monday.

Lincoln is partnering with late-night talk show host and comedian Jimmy Fallon to spark interest ahead of the Super Bowl on social media networks like Twitter. Fallon has more than 7 million followers, while Ford has about 173,000.

Fallon reaches a different demographic for Lincoln, which has featured “Mad Men” actor John Slattery in its television advertisements for the last two years.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.