“WTF is going on with Lincoln?”

So started a holiday conversation over dinner at a friend’s house. I’m always the person expected to answer the automotive related questions and in this case a few people in the room knew that I had worked with folks at Lincoln in the past.

“Cameron, WTF is going on with Lincoln?”  Before I even had a chance to answer, the entire table jumped in and started discussing the recent Lincoln advertising featuring Matthew McConaughey:

 

 

 

Lots of different opinions, some loved the ads, some thought they were stupid.  Some folks really love Matthew McConaughey, some not so much.  I really had no idea how many people thought The Lincoln Lawyer was a great movie. Not surprisingly the conversation turned to all the parodies of the ads, Ellen did one, so did SNL:

 

 

 

All this conversation went on for a full a full a ten minutes and then someone remembered they had asked me a question, turned to me and asked again, “Cameron, WTF is going on with Lincoln?” I said:

“This is what is going on with Lincoln, for the first time in twenty years, people are talking about Lincoln around a dinner table with friends.”

Really remarkable when you think about it.  This was a table full of luxury car owners, a couple of Lexi, a Volvo, a Mercedes-Benz, and an Audi. Genuine, dyed in the wool, luxury car buyers all talking about Lincoln. I’ve know some of these people for twenty years and talked with all of them about cars, never had we talked about Lincoln.

So based on that dinner conversation, I’m willing to declare Lincoln’s campaign with Mathew McConaughey the 2014 automotive marketing success of the year. Those ads have got people talking about Lincoln again, and mostly positively! When you consider that Lincoln had been left for dead by luxury car buyers, this is an amazing turn of events.

When you add in the improvements that are self evident in the new Lincolns you really begin to see that this is a brand on the move.  Just last week, Lincoln showed the world the new MKX (yes, the nomenclature is indecipherable, MKX is the large cross-over):

 

new MKX

 

 

 

The MKX is pretty darn impressive. Like the MKC (small cross-over), its design isn’t derivative of Ford. The interior is beautiful, full of luxury cues and far from a “gussied up Ford.”

Sales are responding as well, in 2014 Lincoln sold 94M units, up 16% from 2013.

All in all, I think Lincoln has made real progress but re-building a luxury brand is not a short term project. It took Audi 20 years to shape itself into a genuine Tier 1 luxury brand. I really do think that the Matthew McConaughey campaign and its parodies are a big part of the brand’s recent success. That said, the brand is still ill-defined and if it is ever to achieve long term success that lack of definition needs to be dealt with.  A brilliant campaign is doing exactly what a “campaign” can do, get a conversation going, but for that “brand” conversation to continue consistently over time and become a real leverageable asset, it needs to have genuine substance.  Lincoln continues to be an empty vessel. What are the two or three things, without which, Lincoln would not be Lincoln?

Wouldn’t it be nice if, in a few years, that same group of people got together over the holidays but rather than saying “WTF Lincoln,” they were able to discuss what the brand stands for and why they just bought one. If that’s ever going to happen, the folks at Lincoln need to define the brand’s core values and start injecting them into the conversation that McConaughey helped them start.

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