Truly Defective: Matthew McConaughey Captured Thinking And Driving

This is about some terrible TV commercials and one not-quite-as-bad commercial -- all starring Matthew McConaughey for the Lincoln MKC compact crossover

Now, as you know, I've been out of the ad criticism game for a while; it was so twentieth century. But every now and then comes along a campaign that defines all that is superficial, uninspired, pretentious and vacuous about advertising. What am I supposed to do? Just sit here?

No -- too much money is at stake. Not just the millions paid to the star, or the tens of millions being spent on TV time, but the hundreds of millions invested in Lincoln's first entry into the fastest-growing segment of the auto industry. In its bid to metamorphose from near-luxury to luxury, Lincoln whiffed on its almost-as-critical MKZ sports sedan. It cannot afford to screw up the MKC.

So let me begin by describing the new model. It's the least I can do, since the TV spots don’t bother. In fact, they barely show the car, much less talk it up.



The harshest way to say it is that the MKC is a Ford Escape with spiffed-up cosmetics and better drivetrain. The nicest way is that the Escape is pretty fantastic in its own right, so now imagine more power and luxury trappings for thousands of dollars less than, say, the Acura RDX or BMW X5 or Audi Q5. And a very handsome, luxe interior.

The tagline is “Live in Your Moment” -- but it should be “This is Why Not to Buy a Honda.”

All of the above constitutes a story to tell, or at least a vehicle to show off. Instead, Ford Motor Co. wrote an outsize check to an actor to sit behind the wheel tooling down the interstate while muttering pseudo-metaphysical mumbo jumbo.

“Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward. I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean going back to see where you can from -- where y’been, how y’got here, see where you’re goin’. I know there are those who say you can’t go back. Yes, you can. You just have to look in the right place.”

Texas? The glove box? The liquor cabinet? The medicine cabinet?

What the hell is he talking about?

And by “he,” I don’t really mean McConaughey. I mean Rust Cohle, the weirdly introspective and pedantic character the actor played on "True Detective." Cohle was an intense dude, creepily in his own head, and a genuinely virtuosic creation of an actor hitherto associated with mere beefcake. An acting tour de force this was. But permit me these observations:

1)     Rust Cohle doesn't actually exist. He’s pretend. His choice of near-luxury sport utes is irrelevant.

2)     If he did exist, you would not wish to be alone in an MKC with him – or a house, or a Texas County -- because you never could be sure he was just an unusually cerebral detective or a damaged man with a dozen bodies buried under his porch.

3)     "True Detective" was seen by about 3 million Americans (assuming a slightly different audience from episode to episode.) That’s less than 1% of the population. That means more than 99% of the population will see these spots and wonder if McConaughey is driving not in Texas, but Colorado, rendered incoherent and slightly spastic by legal weed.

Live in Your Moment? The way this guy so disjointedly raves, you’d have every reason to believe he lives in his car.

I shall now make you laugh, for a press release purports to explain what the ad agency Hudson Rouge had in mind:For Lincoln, the decision to team with McConaughey was about more than putting star power behind the newest vehicle in its lineup. It was about putting the right talent in place to tell stories with an emotional appeal that is unique to Lincoln.

An emotional appeal unique to Lincoln? Huh? What might that be? I’m pretty sure than Lincoln engenders zero emotional appeal, which is a big part of its problem. Also, assuming we are gradually witnessing  McConaughey's own journey back to his dusty roots, what does the MKC bring to the journey that a Jeep -- or an ‘84 Yugo -- couldn’t have equally accomplished? So much time is spent in star-endorser close up, we scarcely get a look at the nominal focus of the ads. Also, notwithstanding the corporate assertion, like so many idea-less ad campaigns before it, this exercise was entirely about putting star power behind the introduction. Such is almost always a flimsy solution, and here even more so than usual.

McConaughey has as much to do with the Lincoln as Abe Lincoln has to do with the Lincoln. And despite some copy in one spot in which he claims to be a Lincoln owner from way back, nobody will believe this role is anything but a dearly paid endorsement gig. Who’s he philosophizing to? Probably his agent.

Come on -- he's there because he's famous, au courant and commercially virginal. Oh, and “authentic,” of course.

"There is an authenticity about this vehicle,” the actor is reputed in the press release to have remarked about the MKC, “and it's reflected in this campaign.”

Wait…what? One wonders what constitutes inauthenticity in a not-quite-luxury, not-quite-sporting luxury sport ute. I guess the VW Touareg is the moral equivalent of Milli Vanilli. Gag me with a Twin-tube hydraulic gas-pressurized shock.

Now, I did mention one spot is somewhat less wrongheaded than the others. In it, McConaughey actually seems to be poking fun at his "True Detective" persona. In that spot, he’s somewhere in west Texas, on a two-lane road, stopped dead because he’s blocked by a bull standing on the asphalt and staring him down..

“That’s a big bull,” McConaughey drawls. “I think that’s ol’ Cyrus, 1800 pounds of ‘I can do whatever the heck I want.’ I can respect that. Take the long way, huh? [McConaughey steers around him.] Thank you, Cyrus.”

The standoff is absurd, the detour tiny, the tongue apparently in cheek. So maybe everybody here is having fun with the whole True Detective vibe -- except that once again, the Rust Cohle character is a pretty obscure reference, no matter how much a revelation it was to the few million initiated. And even then, is the fun worth the takeaway? Do the folks in Dearborn really want to invite viewers to listen to these tedious monologues and look at Cyrus and conclude, yes, that's a lot of bull?

Oh, sure -- the campaign may sell cars and it may resonate, but my guess is the effects will scarcely be felt in Michigan. More likely: deep in the heart of Lexus.

10 comments about "Truly Defective: Matthew McConaughey Captured Thinking And Driving ".
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  1. PJ Lehrer from NYU, September 15, 2014 at 8:37 a.m.

    Couldn't agree more. But you left out the best part. This campaign is supposed to appeal to Millennial women! Here's a blog I wrote about it last week.
    Prof. Lehrer

  2. Stephen Block from Amazon Partners, September 15, 2014 at 11:18 a.m.

    Thanks for giving voice to another "True Stupid" moment in advertising. Neither McConaughey nor Rusty would drive that vehicle... it seems out of truly out of character. I love McConaughey the actor and the "True Detective" series, but these commercials are missing the mark on so many levels. By the way, he was brilliant in "The Lincoln Lawyer." Only thing to add is that the lighting / cinematography was excellent. So?

  3. David Vawter from Doe-Anderson, September 15, 2014 at 11:29 a.m.

    Not sure what your last line means -- that's kinda authentically pseudo-metaphsycial in its own right. But yes, you are on the mark, as usual. Ford seems to have taken leave of its usual good sense on this one. The pressure to be "near-luxurious" is apparently one that clouds the mind.

  4. Ronald Stack from Zavee LLC, September 15, 2014 at 11:36 a.m.

    Apologies for not having seen True Detective yet - it's in my queue, honest! But I remember McConaughey from The Lincoln Lawyer, in which his character used a Town Car as his office, and I thought that was the connection the brand was going for. Or it's a twofer! Anyway, Lincoln seems to think that putting a young man in an old man's car somehow makes it a young man's car. That alchemy didn't work for Cadillac, which now appeals to younger men (and women) with cars that are worth driving and owning.

  5. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 15, 2014 at 11:51 a.m.

    Target: Bulls Eye ! Unless one of those overpaid stars is going to buy the car for me, they well paid stamp means nothing. (Rex Harrison once said he drove a LeBaron because Chrysler gave him the car. He was in Phila. doing a stage performance.) I see a new agency coming down the road. No bull.

  6. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, September 15, 2014 at 11:55 a.m.

    All this Ligotti-inspired, pretentious prose makes for bad marketing. Marshall Mathers did it better in his Chrysler.

  7. Farnaz Wallace from Farnaz Global, LLC, September 15, 2014 at 1:14 p.m.

    As always, enjoy reading your posts. Not sure I agree with you tough. Bottom line, if the two "mays" in your last line come true, then we must admit the campaign is a good one…or at least an effective one. Rational? Not at all. Emotional? Maybe. Results will speak for itself.

  8. Todd Griffin from Mustache Agency, September 19, 2014 at 6:53 p.m.

    Bad? Seriously? Guess I live in a different world entirely. I thought those spots were great. Way better than too-loud, trying to be funny crap you usually see during a football game. Or yet another spot with a car driving through the city making turns while showing off the features and benefits while our eyes glaze over? And what's he talking about? I guess you could look at it as mumbo jumbo but seems obvious it's a reference to his own career resurgence to respectability while putting that in context with Lincoln and its desire for a resurgence and to be respected among its perceived peers.

  9. Mark Schlack from TechTarget, September 22, 2014 at 7:29 p.m.

    I wondered what the city across the river was. My initial reaction was Detroit, that this was a vague impressionistic reference to finding your way back to American cars (albeit from Windsor, Ontario). But I agree -- mumbo jumbo.

  10. C. lee Smith from SALES DEVELOPMENT SERVICES, September 24, 2014 at 8:41 p.m.

    If I had McConaughey's money, I sure as hell wouldn't be driving a car with a four-cyllinder engine!

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