With each product launch over the past few years, Lincoln has taken one more step in its brand transformation from stodgy to sophisticated. With the 2017 Continental slated to launch this fall, there's an opportunity for its ad agency, Hudson Rouge, to take a bigger leap.
Jon Pearce, the agency's creative chief, remains laser-focused on ways to draw younger buyers. Lincoln's sales are up 10 percent this year, but it's still locked in the second tier of luxury brands, behind the three German giants, Lexus and Cadillac.
In an interview with Special Correspondent Julie Halpert, Pearce discussed strategies for making the brand more clearly defined and competitive.
Q: How has Hudson Rouge advanced the perception of Lincoln to a brand that's less stodgy and more hip? How has that translated to sales?
A: There was double-digit growth year over year for sales. The dealers are seeing appreciably younger people come into the dealerships.
All signs point to a challenger brand with a lot of momentum behind it. A lot of that, of course, is driven by the new models themselves, and I think marketing has a little bit of a share.
Why revive the concept of using names for models instead of letters?
Lincoln's got two wonderfully iconic names in Navigator and Continental. They join the letter names really nicely. More than that, they're evocative for people. There's a history there, and I think they show up in a way that there's already some recognition attached to them.
How effective a spokesman has Matthew McConaughey been?
We've got a nice track record now, so when you see Matthew in an ad, it's a Lincoln ad. He's not in it that much. He doesn't say anything, but he doesn't have to. He adds an elegance and a refined style and makes the brand feel modern. He was never intended to be a pitchman for the brand but to appear in as authentic a way as possible. People look to brands that feel like they're for them. I think that Matthew's charisma and confidence do that in a huge way. It's been very successful, very attention-getting for Lincoln.
What are the goals with the "It's like that" campaign?
Where we wanted to go with Matthew in this campaign was lean into the visceral. Each time we try and talk about an experience you get with the car, because Lincoln is all about engineering experiences. With the MKZ it was "It's like that." We really liked the succinctness of it, that it wasn't overpromising.
Did Ellen DeGeneres' spoof of the McConaughey ads help the brand?
The original challenge was to get Lincoln back on the radar again, get Lincoln back into popular culture and that's pretty difficult to do when you're at the beginning of a product transformation. To have the brand end up on "Ellen," not just once but three times in all, that was all amazing earned PR and it opened up the aperture for Lincoln and got people to see it who might not normally see the brand. Sales were up month after month in general and year after year in general.
What did the Dap-Kings do for the brand?
They're a truly authentic partnership for Lincoln. By partnering with the Dap-Kings and using them in a spot, we can reach a much bigger audience. [Sharon Jones] has got 600,000 social fans. We targeted her fans by making a behind-the-scenes film, Dap Wisdom. Then also music fans in general because they've got tons of followers in neo-soul, blues, funk, jazz. They cross a lot of those territories. [Fans are] getting the backstory we filmed and they're getting our commercial along with that. So it's a nice opportunity for us to give content to people who actually are open to receiving it.
What other plans are there to leverage pop culture?
We're always looking for the right partnerships. Matthew feels so right for the brand. The Dap-Kings feel so right. We are always looking for people who organically feel like they're part of the warm, human brand that Lincoln is. When you do that, you form something that's even bigger for the brand. It helps inform what the brand is to people. It's been really successful for us and we want to continue to look for those kinds of authentic partnerships.
How diverse is the talent at Hudson Rouge, and how is it being used to help Lincoln?
It's actually a point of pride I have. We knew we wanted to be successful at all layers of marketing funnels for Lincoln. So that meant recruiting people who had automotive experience but also people who came from the worlds of luxury and fashion. Our head of brand content and alliances [Monique Frumberg], for instance, came from the Sundance Channel, with deep knowledge of independent film. And she's leading the Tribeca Film Festival partnership.
The director of social [Ashley Davidson, creative director of brand publishing] was a fashion blogger and fashion strategist. I loved the idea of pairing her with a digital writer who had once been an automotive designer. You get this interesting alchemy where you're able to speak like a modern, culturally relevant automotive brand.
Lincoln trails BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Cadillac in market share. What does it need to do to stand out from those brands?
We're taking smart risks. We're going to continue to do that. We know we have to be out there in provocative and innovative ways. We're really positioning the brand as a warm, human, personally crafted brand. It's in stark contrast to the German brands, that [market a car as a] precise machine.
What are Hudson Rouge's goals going forward?
I want to capitalize on the momentum that we've achieved and keep defining this warm, human face that Lincoln lives in. With Continental's launch, we're going to be doing some really innovative things. It's time for a big behavior in digital for Lincoln. Now that we've defined the brand in the last year or two, we've focused on the driver and where the driver truly is important. I don't think anybody is doing that the way we are now.