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Ford rolls out first Lincoln Super Bowl ad to revive brand

Ford Motor Co., seeking to revive sales of Lincoln vehicles, is fielding the brand’s first Super Bowl spot as well as a television commercial that portrays the U.S. president who gave the luxury line its name.

The 60-second TV ad, which debuted Monday, opens with an actor playing Abraham Lincoln emerging from mist. It also shows vintage models and images of Dean Martin and Clark Gable, who owned Lincoln cars, set against fenders of the new MKZ sedan.

The nod to the luxury line’s 90-year heritage is part of Ford’s $1 billion bet that it can stem a 63 percent slide in Lincoln sales since their peak in 1990. Ford Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally on Monday introduced the “Lincoln Motor Company,” a marketing term meant to create distance between the brand’s vehicles and mainstream Ford (NYSE: F) models built in the same factories.

“It’s our largest campaign ever from the size, scale and reach of it,” Matt VanDyke, Lincoln’s director of marketing, sales and service, said in a briefing Nov. 30. “Every touch point is being reinvented. Everything we’re doing is different.”

Michelle Krebs, a Royal Oak, Mich.-based analyst with researcher Edmunds.com, said “Ford has got to have reasonable expectations with Lincoln. The MKZ is a very fine car, but does it really compete with a BMW 3 Series? It’s not even on the same shopping list.”

Rebuilding Lincoln is a “daunting task,” according to Mark Fields, who took over as Ford’s chief operating officer Dec. 1 after heading its Americas region for seven years. The brand has fallen behind Bayerische Motoren Werke AG’s BMW, Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus and Volkswagen AG’s Audi in the U.S. and globally.

A successful luxury brand “is essential for us to be a global and successful enterprise,” Field said in October at the opening of Lincoln’s new design studio in Dearborn, Mich., where the company is based. He acknowledged Lincoln’s turnaround won’t “happen overnight.”

Ford hopes to jump-start Lincoln’s revival with a 60-second ad that will debut on the Super Bowl. Lincoln will solicit consumer script suggestions for the spot on Twitter, VanDyke said. Ford said today that it hired comedian and talk-show host Jimmy Fallon, formerly of “Saturday Night Live,” to help produce the spot from the Twitter responses.

“We’re going to put a different twist on it and approach it in a very social way and try to do something that hasn’t been done before,” VanDyke said.

‘Brand ambassador’

Ford also said it’s hiring former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith as “brand ambassador” for Lincoln at the Super Bowl.

The average cost of a 60-second commercial on this year’s Super Bowl was $7 million, according to NBC, which broadcast the game and said it drew 111.3 million viewers, the most in U.S. television history. The 2013 game, to be shown by CBS Corp. (NYSE: CBS), will be Feb. 3 in New Orleans.

The TV ad that starts Monday with Abraham Lincoln will run on prime-time shows such as “The Voice,” which airs on Comcast Corp.’s (Nasdaq: CMCSA) NBC network.

Lincoln has been known mostly for its black Town Cars that ferry executives to airports. That model was retired this year, and Mulally is seeking younger, wealthier buyers and a bigger slice of more-profitable luxury sales. Lincoln, whose buyers average 65 years old, is introducing seven new models by 2015.

Sales decline

Lincoln had U.S. sales of 85,643 vehicles in 2011, down from a 1990 peak of 231,660. Its sales fell 9.1 percent in November and are down 3.2 percent this year to 74,766. The top-selling U.S. luxury auto brand last year was BMW with 247,907.

Rather than trying to dislodge BMW and Mercedes owners from their cars, Lincoln is seeking “curious” luxury buyers not beholden to brand names, VanDyke said. Those buyers, who may come from near-luxury brands such as General Motors Co.’s (NYSE: GM) Buick or even economy cars like Toyota’s Scion, account for 25 percent of the premium market, he said.

“They are open to new ideas,” VanDyke said. “They are not driven to drive a BMW 3 Series because there are four of them on their block. They are the folks who are very willing to find a product that has a unique heritage.”

Lincoln will make a more detailed appeal to those buyers in newspaper ads today in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Headlined, “Does the world need another luxury car? Not really,” the ads draw on Lincoln’s history as a pet project of Edsel Ford, son of founder Henry, who commissioned the creation of the first Lincoln Continental for himself and then sold copies to his wealthy friends.

That “personal approach” to creating luxury cars is how Lincoln “will become great again,” according to the ads.

Lincoln dealers previewed the marketing campaign in Las Vegas last month. Terry Massey, general manager at Ken Stoepel Ford-Lincoln in Kerrville, Texas, said he liked the campaign and the new cars. He said he hopes it will turn around his Lincoln sales, which have fallen by half, while worrying that his Lincoln loyalists won’t fit into the new youth appeal.

The ad campaign is “great, it touches my emotions, but how many of those people do I have around here,” Massey said in an interview. “And those people can still buy a Mercedes, an Audi, a BMW, a Lexus. Those are still good cars.”

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