Bark's Bites: When It Comes To #Branding, Cars Still Come First

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
by Mark "Bark M." Baruth

I still remember it as though it were yesterday. My father, nearly exactly the same age that I am today, pulling up into the driveway of our suburban home in his new company car just slowly enough for everybody in the neighborhood to see.

As a cherubic five year old, I looked down from the window of the bedroom that I shared with my older brother, feeling the same sort of excitement that I normally reserved for things like the very few Christmas mornings that I had experienced thus far. Not because I was necessarily that excited, mind you, but because everybody else in the house was. The buzz was palpable. My dad was bringing home the car that signified that his new position as the president of a brokerage firm, the car that nearly everybody in the early 1980s said was their dream car.

What was the dream car in question? If you were alive in 1983, you already know. It was the Lincoln Town Car, resplendent in the color of a Carolina sky that my ever politically correct mother nicknamed “Polack Blue.” To own a Town Car in the time of Perestroika was to let everybody else know that you were somebody. That you had made it.

Now? The Lincoln Motor Company is trying to bring back some of that panache with their Black Label sub-brand — and they’ve been trying for two-plus years. As a nearly literal lifelong Lincoln fan, I’m unprofessionally rooting for them to get it right. Unfortunately, in the middle of all the that Lincoln is doing surrounding this concept, they seem to have forgotten one thing.

If you have a memory (or hell, a life span) long enough to identify with the pride that my entire family had upon my dad’s arrival with that Town Car, you probably also remember what the world was like during that time. When it came to mainstream luxury cars in the ’80s, there were exactly three brands that mattered: Cadillac, Mercedes, and Lincoln. BMW was still fiddling around with squarish low-powered cars, and Audi was being crucified by the public for that decade’s unintended acceleration scandal. Jaguar was plagued with reliability issues. Lexus, Infiniti, and Acura didn’t exist.

In fact, it could be said that the closest thing to a luxury competitor that Lincoln and Cadillac faced could be found in the same showrooms — Mercury, in the case of Lincoln, and Buick, right down the aisle from Caddy. Choices were few and far between for the aspiring, upwardly mobile professional. I specifically remember a poll being taken at the time that asked what the average American considered to be his dream car, and the responses were split between Ferrari Testarossa and Lincoln Town Car. I kid you not.

Fast forward to 2016, and Lincoln faces a bit of an identity crisis. This isn’t breaking news. In fact, even though I lust after a certified EcoBoost MKS in Java (I think it’s the best used car value on the market today, and I’d almost be surprised if I don’t buy one when the FiST lease is up) the name “Lincoln” just doesn’t carry the same weight that it once did. What I think everybody understands, even morons on the internet who say things like “MKTauruS” and think they’re being insightful, is that Lincoln needs, well … Lincolns.

The Navigator Concept revealed at the New York International Auto Show was a step in the right direction. Yes, it’s gaudy. Yes, those gullwing doors and extended risers are ridiculous. And no, they won’t make it to production. But along with the Continental (yes, I wanted it to have a V8, too), Lincoln is generating some real buzz for the first time in God-knows-how-long.

So I want the Black Label idea to make sense. Really. I like the idea of the “themed” interiors. I love the worry-free service experience it provides. The Black Label showrooms themselves are gorgeous. I was recently a visitor to a Detroit-area Black Label dealer, and the experience that the Black Label customer will receive is easily equivalent or superior to the experience provided by any Lexus store.

Lincoln was kind enough to pick me up from the Javits Center and take me to Fellow Barber, a Black Label partner, for a haircut and a shave from the lovely and talented Alexia. She gave me a wonderful haircut, a better facial hair look, and she even pretended that my French was passable. All Black Label customers in NYC can take advantage of this service through April, as well as custom menu items from upscale restaurants across America. With Black Label, Lincoln has gotten all of the ancillary stuff right, no question.

But there’s one thing missing: cars. You can’t make a brand premium without offering a premium product. The MKZ, MKX, and MKC just aren’t premium cars, no matter how much theming you give them. Even the kind gentleman who picked me up and dropped me back off in an MKX complained that it just felt small and cramped in the driver’s seat, a problem that has plagued the MKS from the get-go. Also, I hate to be this guy — really, I do — but I can’t stop seeing Fusion, Edge, and Escape when I walk into Lincoln showrooms. And the equivalent Fords are just so good on their own that, in some ways, it could be said that the Lincoln brand actually diminishes its own offerings.

So what does Lincoln need to make Black Label more than just a concept or a hashtag? They need real Lexus and BMW competitors. They need some rear-wheel drive. They need a genuinely fucking fast car — I mean, come on, you can make a Lincoln Escape but you can’t make a Lincoln Mustang? We all want one. Just put four doors on the damn thing and call it a day. Maybe you wouldn’t sell a lot of them, but wouldn’t a Black Label four-door Shelby GT350 equivalent, with pimped-out African blackwood (whoops, I didn’t mean to bring up Blackwood, Lincoln) trim and red interior be straight-up baller?

Then you can call it Black Label. Then you can take some big, bad, flat-crank 550-horsepower sedan with rear-wheel drive (and yes, maybe even a V-8), make it premium as hell inside, and build Black Label cars that the world envies. Why not make Black Label a real M or AMG competitor? Make it a legitimate alternative to an E63 or M5. Make it powerful. Make it American. Make it a goddamned Lincoln.

Then, someday, when I become President of TTAC (not gonna happen), I can feel just as proud behind the wheel of my new Lincoln Black Label MKBADAZZ as my dad did bringing that Town Car home over 30 years ago. Come on, Lincoln. You can do it. For me? Please?

Lincoln provided a really good haircut, a style session with LeBron James’ personal stylist, some hair products, and personalized stationery, as well as a trip around Manhattan in a Lincoln MKX.

[Images: © 2016 Bark M. and Nilo Salmasi/The Truth About Cars]

Mark "Bark M." Baruth
Mark "Bark M." Baruth

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  • Tresmonos Tresmonos on Apr 11, 2016

    Bark, If one looks at product plans, Fords will all be some SUV or variant of the CD6 platform, and the 'modified' platforms are reserved for Lincoln. The future will be brighter, I promise.

  • Laserwizard Laserwizard on Apr 11, 2016

    Not sure what the point of this article is. Lincoln is in the midst of the FIRST serious attempt to revive it during the last thirty years. Finally Ford is committed to introducing Lincolns that aren't merely rebadged Fords with different grills and tail lights. We also need to remember that despite the spin by the media, over the past 12 years Cadihack has been in a revival that has resulteed in a sales slide even as it adds more models; the era of Arts and Scientology design has yet to beat 1990 sales volumes - sales volumes that offered no GMC truck with pimp decor packages. I think we need to give Lincoln 12 years on its revival to see if it is more successful than the disaster at Cadihack - a place where its two lowest priced products are eating each other's lunch and where the luxury has disappeared in the look and the interior of the new Seedy Six has a touch cluster surround made of a cheap plastic that would embarrass Kia designers.

  • Ras815 Their naming scheme is almost as idiotic as having a totally separate Polestar brand for EVs that look exactly Volvos. But you can tell it came from the same idiocy.
  • Dukeisduke "The EX naming convention is used for the automaker’s new and upcoming EVs, the EX30 and EX90."Only upcoming when they can figure out the software.
  • SCE to AUX I've always said that consumer/business pressures will reign in government decrees, as they have in the past in places like California. That state has moved the goalposts many times for "ZEV" mandates.But the problem is the depth of politicization of the EPA. Mfrs need continuity and long-term commitment to requirements, not living on a 4-year political cycle of who's in the White House and Congress. Your President - whomever that is - isn't going to be around forever.Ironically, backing off the gas means handing a greater lead to Tesla, Rivian, and Lucid, (and possibly H/K/G). The whiners have begun heavy investments whose ROI will be extended by years, and their EV sales will reduce even further.It's like the coach granting his players less practice time because they're tired, while the other team stays fit - that's how you lose the game.
  • Dukeisduke The administration is slowly dribbling out details of the change - it's like they don't want to piss off environmentalists, the auto manufacturers, or the UAW. John McElroy covered this very well in today's installment of Autoline Daily: AD #3751 - 2024 U.S. EV Sales Could Grow 43%; China Price War Spreads To ICE; U.S Vehicles Biggest Ever, Also Lowest CO2 - AutolineAlso, even though vehicles in the US have gotten larger, heavier, and more powerful (thanks to the shift away from sedans to trucks and SUVs), according to a year-end report by the EPA, in 2023, average fuel economy was at its highest ever, and CO2 emissions of new vehicles were at their lowest ever ( The 2023 EPA Automotive Trends Report: Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Fuel Economy, and Technology since 1975, Executive Summary (EPA-420-S-23-002, December 2023 ).
  • Golden2husky How about real names instead of alphabet/numeric soup?