While Ford's eponymous division has been flying high under the leadership of former Boeing chief Allen Mulally, Ford's luxury brand Lincoln has been sitting on the tarmac spinning its turbines. That's about to change. Like an F4 Phantom on a pitching deck lining up to the catapult, the deck pitched up 10 degrees, the carrier turned into the wind, tanks full, stingers armed, Lincoln is preparing for takeoff in 2012.
On deck is a major vehicle portfolio refresh and redesign, a forthcoming brand transformation, and -- here's the big one -- a nascent New York City-based Lincoln-dedicated advertising agency with 45 staffers comprising talent from its WPP shop Team Detroit, plus other people garnered from WPP agencies.
This confluence of events has been in the works for a while. Max Wolff, chief designer for the brand, speaking at a Lincoln brand confab in New York on Thursday, said, for example, that a Lincoln Design Studio has also been quietly coalescing and will be airborne by January.
Jim Farley, group VP global marketing at Ford, pointed to the seven "transformational" vehicles Lincoln will have over the next three years (the 2013 MKS car and MKT crossover will enter showrooms next year, boasting new powertrain technology, among other things) -- saying the vehicles reflect a dedicated engineering design team at work under the Lincoln banner.
One big hint about the brand direction from a product perspective will be a concept version of the MKZ sedan to be unveiled in Detroit next month. "At the same time," said Farley, "we are developing unique Lincoln field and marketing teams focused on dealerships." He said part of the transformation will be retail redesigns.
The New York-based agency will be directed by Cameron McNaughton, who will be the agency's president, reporting to Satish Korde, CEO of Team Detroit. Jon Pearce, formerly of BBH New York, where he handled Johnnie Walker and Westin Hotels, among other brands, will be COO.
Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP, said New York was the ideal location for Lincoln's new agency because of the talent, culture, confluence of luxury brands, and demographic (the New York area is the top luxury market in the U.S.) The city, he said, "brings an enhanced perspective very naturally, because it is embedded among the core audience. It also gives us access to an enlarged talent pool."
Said Farley, who came to Ford from Toyota Motor three years ago, "I spent couple of decades at Lexus and this is most exciting project I've worked on because it's rare when we have the honor to revitalize a brand." He said Lincoln has in its favor its relatively small size and dealership footprint. "Lincoln was never intended to be that big," he said, recalling the brand’s heyday when it was thought of as a "personal" brand. "Our intention is to bring that personalized brand back as a new choice."
The automaker has also rethought its buyer profile, and it is eschewing the alpha male (and female) psychographic that luxury auto brands -- particularly performance brands -- tend to court implicitly. "The biggest decision we have made is to go after the 'magician,' not the 'ruler' archetype -- the type who wants to dominate," said Farley. "Ours is different, and the most important aspect of it is their immense interest in satisfaction and surprise."
Matt VanDyke, director of Lincoln marketing communications, said the target audience will be much more progressive than the traditional buyer base, and thus social media will be an important component of marketing programs. "We have learned a lot about how our customers use social media. The content that we create has to be relevant to that audience, so we know we need social for Lincoln."