* Ford relaunches Lincoln brand under former name
* CEO says Ford "well on our way" to reviving Lincoln
* Jim Farley takes new role as head of Lincoln on Dec. 1
By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, Dec 3 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
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.
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. 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.
Ford is determined to show a different side to a brand that
is known mostly for the discontinued Town Car. The goal is to
attract younger, more progressive buyers by offering fresh
designs, personalized service and glossier showrooms.
"I think we are well on our way and especially with the
proof point of the first vehicle here today," Mulally said
during an interview with Reuters Television Monday.
'WE WILL BECOME GREAT AGAIN'
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.
"The Super Bowl is such an unusual and attractive venue for
a brand that is really rebuilding itself," Farley said in an
interview with Reuters Television.
Ford is aiming for the new MKZ sedan to command a more than
50 percent "conquest rate." Currently, more than 40 percent of
Lincoln's current buyers come from other luxury brands. The MKZ
competes with Cadillac's CTS and the Lexus ES.
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.
"We can't do this one person at a time by word of mouth,"
VanDyke said. "We do need to get noticed by the masses."
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.
Ford's smaller rival, Chrysler Group LLC, has benefited from
its iconic Super Bowl ad in 2011 that featured the tag line
"Imported from Detroit." Ford decided not to advertise during
the 2012 National Football League championship game.
The 2013 Super Bowl game will be broadcast by CBS Corp
, which is selling 30-second ads for as much as $4
LEVERAGING FORD SUCCESS
But some analysts and executives are skeptical about the
brand's prospects. In an interview with The Detroit News last
year, General Motors Co Chief Executive Dan Akerson said
Ford "might as well sprinkle holy water" over the brand.
"I'm in southern California and there's not one Lincoln
around here. The reason is it's not because Lincoln doesn't make
good cars, it's because people buy image here," TrueCar.com
analyst Jesse Toprak said.
Over the last two years, Ford winnowed its dealership
network to focus on the top 130 luxury markets and created the
brand's first dedicated design studio in about 40 years.
Ford has reworked the service standards for its roughly 325
U.S. Lincoln dealers using boutique hotels as inspiration. Ford
is providing perks such as "the Lincoln date night" - a dinner
reward to people who test-drive a Lincoln car.
Ford is also laying the groundwork to launch the brand in
China, to take advantage of a growing appetite for luxury cars
in the world's largest car market.
Initially, Ford sought to set Lincoln apart from the Ford
brand in its U.S. marketing strategy, not unlike the distinction
between Volkswagen AG and its top-tier Audi brand.
But Ford's successful turnaround under Mulally could revive
interest in the brand, executives said.
"Traditionally, in North America, you try to hide your
mainstream brand, but every wealthy person in America knows what
happened to Ford," Farley said in an interview in Beijing in
August. He took charge of the Lincoln brand on Dec. 1.
"That's not to say we're going to make Ford a huge part of
the marketing, but we're also not going to hide it," he said.