By on October 1, 2010

Is going Between the Lines this time ‘round more like shooting fish in a barrel?  Let’s find out with the latest ad campaign from Lincoln, as covered by the Detroit Free Press:

Ford said today it is rolling out a new ad campaign for its Lincoln brand with the tagline “Smarter than Luxury,” and starring John Slattery, who portrays Roger Sterling in the TV series “Mad Men.”

There’s an ironic element there, considering the behind-the-scenes marketing dialogue seen on the TV show.  If the boffins at Lincoln chose “Smarter than Luxury” over everything else, I gotta know what they passed on.  Perhaps “Lincoln: Our Stuff Looks Like Poop Dung” was already under consideration for the Lincoln Log people.

“This campaign shows that Lincoln offers a heightened sense of style, craftsmanship and technology and we’re showing that off in a new way for this brand,” Matt VanDyke, Ford’s director of U.S. marketing communications said in a statement.”

While Lincoln’s progression from nothingness to somethingness is noteworthy, it should be noted that this campaign promises nothing to show Lincoln’s heightened sense of yadda-yadda-yadda. You know what would?  Giving the media a teaser of an ad that stacks Lincolns up against their competition in stylish but aloof advertisements, in a very Top Gear kinda way. Play a modern remake of Commander Cody’s Lincoln-esque hit in the background, and finish with anything but “Smarter than Luxury.” Surely that’d “heighten some senses” and show off the brand like a sonofagun.

Probably not, since I just made that up.  But it still sucks less than the phrase, “Smarter than Luxury.”

“We’re going to challenge people’s perceptions of luxury and show that we deliver more technology and luxury for an unexpected amount of content for the price,” VanDyke said.

To which a recently deposed Lincoln-Mercury dealer noted, “they are already ‘challenging people’s perceptions of luxury’ by selling and servicing Lincolns next to a Ford Focus.” After informing him that Lincoln is coming out with a small car based on said Ford, the Lincoln-Mercury dealer’s head exploded.

The launch of a print ad campaign will coincide with the TV ads…designed to evoke emotion and challenge customer perceptions of luxury.

That sounds rather challenging, if they use the phrase “Smarter than Luxury” in print.

The TV ads will feature the latest Lincoln vehicles, the 2011 Lincoln MKX crossover and the 2011 MKZ Hybrid sedan, along with Slattery.

In all seriousness, if Lincoln refrains from offering a great lease in this ad campaign, avoiding the endless cycle of incentive promotion and breaking rank with Cadillac to instead promote the product (a la BMW and others), this campaign will be a success.  That is when we shall know that Lincoln is, well, Smarter than Luxury.

PS: When this was posted, the presentation for the “Smarter Than Luxury” campaign by the Action Marketing Group could be downloaded here. The “download budget” button was wisely disabled.

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39 Comments on “Between The Lines: Smarter Than Luxury?...”

  • avatar

    The whole Lincoln strategy puzzles me. It seems so at odds with everything else Ford has done over the last few years. I keep thinking that there’s a stroke of genius somewhere in all this that I’m missing, or an upcoming model or two that they think is a game-changer. It’s going to be very interesting to watch, but I can’t help thinking that that might be in a “trainwreck” sense.

    • 0 avatar

      +1.  This whole Lincoln fiasco seems so GMesque to me.  I have to believe that the same people who have put Ford back into the game in the US and elsewhere have a sense of what is wrong with Lincoln and how to do something about it.  It seems to me that it all comes down to product. 

    • 0 avatar

      It should be all about product.  Build it and support it, and the customers will come, in time.  Hyundai did this.  They even stuck their neck out and offered a 100K warranty before they had a 100K car.  Value is less important, though not irrelevant, in this arena.  Maybe changes are under way; I hope so.  My family’s MKZ, while nice in many ways, simply lacks the feeling of stiffness and solidity of my Altima.  Ford was on the right path with the MKVII LSC and the LS, but lost the scent ever since.   Too bad.

    • 0 avatar

      Ford invested what little R&D money it had into refreshing their bread and butter vehicles such as the Taurus, Mustang, Fiesta and soon Focus. While this was the right thing to do, they simply don’t have the funds to develop Lincoln into a fully fledged luxury brand with its own platforms. So instead of relying on string product they fiddle around with marketing to distract from the fact that they are rebadged Fords. Solid vehicles but not really on par with the bigger players in this segment.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      Ford invested a lot more into “Ford” than they needed to, cannibalizing Mercury (and now Lincoln) in the process. The top-level Ford trims squeezed Mercury out completely, and Lincoln is suffering a similar fate as Ford product continues to move upward.

  • avatar


  • avatar

    I wonder if a well designed midsize RWD car would be able to change Lincoln’s fortune. I don’t know what popular opinion of the Cadillac CTS is, but to me it is just a big meh.

    • 0 avatar

      Cadillac and Infiniti need to learn that you need more than one excellent car in order to succeed as a luxury brand, so you’re right there that one car will not do it.  Heck, Lincoln had a great rear-drive luxury car (the LS) and it didn’t do them any good.
      Were I Ford, I would pick a feature and work it, like GM failed to do with “Buick = Quiet”.  Technology is not a bad idea, but they need to do it well (eg, not like Acura).  It needs to be “human” technology; something helpful but unobtrusive.
      Here’s an example:  everybody has power seats, and a few have power pedals and wheel adjust.  But many make you jump through hoops to set up memory settings.  So your Lincoln should make easy to adjust your seat, and remember how you adjusted your seat, and adjust from an “exit pose” to a “driving pose” easily.  Heck, even better, it should “measure” you and conform, and then remember the radio presets/MP3 tracks, climate settings and nav destinations that you use.  If it adjusted suspension comliance and steering weight based on driving style, that would be nice, too.
      Here’s another: have the car make suggestions to make your life easier, eg (If you increase speed to 100km/h, you’ll get there 20 minutes faster; if you drop your speed, you’ll use a litre less fuel).
      Or how about this?  When the fuel light goes on, show the nearest, cheapest, and average gas station.  If it’s near a mealtime, show restaurants based on where the car has stopped last.
      All of this is easy and cheap, and leverages technology that’s already in the car.  It also has the benefit (via targeted advertising) of allowing Ford to make money (and self-fund the system) by tracking how the driver behaves.

    • 0 avatar

      like GM failed to do with “Buick = Quiet”.  Technology
      You’re kidding right?  That “quite” technology made Buick VERY quiet.  Ride in a Rainier VS a Trailblazer.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      There are a lot of CTS in SoCal, because it is different. And it is good. Also a lot of Escalades, and I’m seeing more and more SRX on the road, so Caddy is doing just fine with their “one car”.

      Lincoln, I hardly ever see except for a Town Car in Livery fleet service with a TCP#.

      Visually, Caddy is interseting, whereas Lincoln is just bland. There’s no “soul” to Lincoln, they got no mojo.

      And “Smarter than Luxury” isn’t the answer to finding it. “More for the price” is what Ford, Chevy & Subaru deliver. It’s not a luxury message that commands a superior price point.

      If the goal is “more for the price”, might as well add another option to the Ford side and shut down Lincoln entirely.

      Which may be the real plan.

    • 0 avatar

      You’re kidding right?

      I think you missed my point.  GM had the opportunity to use quiet as a brand differentiator for Buick.  They could have hammered on it and used it to underscore Buick’s role as a maker of “humane” luxury cars that get the fundamentals right.

  • avatar

    Not that I don’t like the cars—I do—-but the modern Lincoln is really little more than an American Acura (or American Volvo, which is worse).  There’s nothing really wrong with that, save for Acura, Volvo, Buick and, to a lesser degree, Volkswagen and Subaru already play in this market**, and it’s a market that’s not showing growth prospects.
    “Smarter than Luxury” and a focus on technology for the price is exactly what Acura’s doing.  Add in a little controversial styling, and the parallels are clear.  If you’re going to emulate a luxury marque, Acura as it is today is not a wise choice.
    I’d see the point if Fords weren’t very good, but they are decent cars, and most Lincolns are a hard sell versus the uplevel version of the same Ford.  They need something unique, be it a product or selling point, and right now that’s the Town Car, and that makes them no money anyways.
    **  And then you have Hyundai’s Genesis and Equus, which make things even more uncomfortable.

  • avatar

    For me, “Smarter than Luxury” just screams “Practical Shoes”. 

    The only possible thing that makes any sense at all to me is that they had paid a lot of money to some agency to develop a slogan for Volvo and, having sold Volvo,  didn’t want to waste it.  

    Oh, and you MUST be kidding about a Focus-based Lincoln, right? Please tell me you are.

    Don’t these people read ANY history, even automotive history? It’s not like the Cadillac Cimarron was a disaster in 1066 or something.  

    • 0 avatar

      Doing a small luxury car based on the Focus platform isn’t an inherently bad idea.  Audi’s A3 is based on the Golf and sells pretty well, and Volvo’s C30 has garnered some attention and acclaim, and that’s based on the current Euro-Focus platform.

    • 0 avatar

      The C30 is indeed not a bad car — but as an example it’s not great as it hasn’t exactly set the market on fire.
      The A3 (and the new A1) are much better examples of successful small premium cars based on a competent mass-market platform.  But so far neither the Japanese nor Italians have succeeded in doing the same.

    • 0 avatar

      “Smarter than luxury” would have been the perfect tagline for Volvo.   A Lincoln Focus?  Really?  Seriously?   That only leaves maybe a Lincoln Fiesta after that.    Or maybe a Lincoln version of the  Mustang…  that one makes sense to me, call it a Continental Mark XII or something, and I could see that.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought the Lincoln Focus was common knowledge.  Here’s the fancypants concept version, I don’t think we’ve seen pictures of the production version yet.

    • 0 avatar

      Doing a small luxury car based on the Focus platform isn’t an inherently bad idea.  Audi’s A3 is based on the Golf and sells pretty well,
      Are you kidding me?  They sell worse than the Fiesta or Flex.
      And where the Lincoln small car would be a terrible rebadge like the MKS/MKT/MKX/MKZ, the A3 is actually a different car worthy of the premium in price.

    • 0 avatar

      @Z71_Silvy,  it’s true that the A3 sells worse than Flex — but only if you limit your vision to US and Canada.  Take a look at Audi’s global sales figures, and you’ll find the demand for the A3 (and A1) quite high.

  • avatar

    It’s ironic that Roger Sterling is a steadfast Cadillac man.

  • avatar

    Howabout “the new class of world class”?  Oh wait, it is taken.  Come on, Alan, you are better than Buick.  Act like it!

    Actually, maybe a re-think is in order here.  Does anybody under 50 or 60 talk about “luxury cars” anymore?  Luxury is what Cadillac and Lincoln were selling in the 60s and 70s.  When someone says “luxury car” – they are not describing Mercedes, BMW, Audi.  Maybe Lexus, but maybe not.  Lincoln needs to go after some word that evokes some kind of techno-performo-quality vibe.  But if this is where they are going, why use the word Luxury in the slogan at all.  I want to give these guys the benefit of the doubt, but I am still scratching my head here.

    • 0 avatar

      I think that’s a good point.   “Luxury” doesn’t mean much these days when you can get just about anything on any size/type vehicle.

    • 0 avatar

      The definition of Luxury has changed for most (but not all). Gone are the days when Luxury meant something to keep for 20 years … unless you’re in the realm of the ultra-rich.

      Is Lincoln looking for another identity then? Go where the markets are grasshopper ….  

  • avatar

    Ford has the same problem GM has – an inability to define and stick to a brand identity for it’s various makes.
    Like Caddy, Lincoln is a purveyor of retirement cars, blinged out SUVs, pickups (recently) , and who knows what else.   All things to all people means you’re nothing to nobody.
    If they are attempting to define Lincoln, that’s good.  However, I’m not sure that a “value luxury” identity really makes sense.   Besides, how can Ford provide more features/tech at a particular price than anyone else?

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    It is a stupid tagline.  You know what “Smarter Than Luxury” means to most American car buyers? – I ordered an Impala LTZ so I got leather and it was cheaper than a Buick or a Lincoln.

    • 0 avatar

      Exactly, Dan. Or “look how much I saved buying a Taurus SHO instead of that Lincoln with the letters nobody can remember.”

    • 0 avatar

      The value of a marketing tagline like “Smarter than Luxury” is that it has no inherent meaning. This allows people to project onto it whatever meaning they desire. What remains to be seen is what the follow on marketing manages to project onto it, and whether that will manage to build a coherent brand message.

    • 0 avatar

      ClutchCarGo’s right. “Smarter than Luxury” does allow people to project onto it whatever meaning they desire. That’s how they marketed Obama in 2008, and look how well it’s turned out….er, never mind.

  • avatar
    Chicago Dude

    It’s no worse than BMW’s new Joy marketing campaign.
    By the way Sajeev, page 6 of the PDF you linked to contains some budget information.

    • 0 avatar

      Agreed that Lincoln’s slogan is no worse than BMW’s “Joy”.   However the difference is that people are aready buying “the ultimate driving machine” and will just ignore the new slogan and continue to buy them without thinking

      With Lincoln the situation is exactly the opposite.

  • avatar

    Lincoln is also smarter than unique platforms, engines, or even completely unique sheet metal. I suspect that’s a large part of the problem. They are smarter than resale value, too.
    I’m sure that going from 5X as many dealers as Lexus, Mercedes, and BMW to 4X as many will solve everything.

  • avatar

    I think they should tailor the ads to each specific model…such as:
    MKZ: Smarter than a Fusion
    MKT: Smarter than a Flex
    MKX: Smarter than an Edge
    MKS: Smarter than a Taurus
    Navigator: Smarter than an Expedition
    And to think…Ford killed Mercury for this…

  • avatar

    The “download budget” button was wisely disabled.
    It wasn’t for me. I clicked and a spreadsheet was downloaded.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Want to hit a home run, generate a tremendous amount of traffic in your Lincoln dealerships?

    Take the Mustang platform and badge-engineer a Lincoln high-performance coupe….call it the LSC, or the Mark IX…Nissan does it with the Z-car and the G37, and nobody says a word….Toyota does it with the Camry and the ES350….

    The Mustand is already on the D/EW platform, which was the T-bird and the LS…

    Think about the V-8 Mustang underpinnings with a sweet coupe or roadster sheet metal (sans the big-mouth Lincoln grilles) and a best-in-class interior, and some really sumptuous paint….Ford couldn’t make enough of them, and I’d wager they would not cannibalize Mustang as much as the naysayers might think….they’d take away sales from the BMW and Audi set, for sure.

    If I was the product guy at Lincoln, that is what I’d do.

    • 0 avatar
      SVX pearlie

      That’s a good idea.

      I’m sure it was the *exact* same pitch behind the MKFusion, MKTaurus, and MKEdge, how the ES is identical to the Camry and so on.

      But when it’s all done, Lincoln will get a regrilled Mustang that shoulda been sold as a Mercury Cougar.

  • avatar

    First of all, they need to get rid of those dang awful grills. Secondly, they need to get rid of that alphabet soup nomenclature. Thirdly, they need to evoke the special feel of Lincolns of the past, i.e: 4 door Continental Convertible w/suicide doors. (build it off the Mustang platform). Lincoln, like Cadillac is trying too hard to be the American equivalent of BMW/Mercedes, when they need to stike out on their own disctinctive path.

  • avatar

    Two people mentioned that they could download the PDF.  I wasn’t so lucky, but I really want to read it. (blame Firefox?) If someone has the PDF and can mail it to me @ [email protected], I would certainly appreciate it. 

  • avatar

    Ford is putting all its eggs in the Ford brand basket for this model cycle, so everything about Lincoln is just a band-aid placeholder until the whole next generation arrives. They are making the best of what they have.

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