DETROIT -- The creative management of Ford's Lincoln brand is moving out of the Motor City to the Big Apple. The company announced Friday a new creative "boutique" ad agency in the Chelsea district of Manhattan that will work on a new strategy to help revitalize the 96-year-old premium marque.
The new agency, Team Lincoln, is a spinoff of Dearborn-based Team Detroit and a new unit of the WPP Group, which handles virtually all of Ford's ad and media-buying assignments. The agency will employ about 45 people in creative and strategy, while digital advertising and media will remain in Dearborn.
Why the move?
"Lincoln is at a crossroads and we have to match the great product we have now and have coming with the right message. ... We really have to get Lincoln noticed better," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vice president for global marketing, sales and service, in a recent interview.
Lincoln's sales and brand interest have been going downhill for several years. Through November, Lincoln has sold about 77,000 cars and SUVs in the U.S. Cadillac, in contrast, has sold 136,000.
The notion that automotive ad accounts are hamstrung by limited creative talent in greater Detroit has been a point of conversation for at least two decades. When General Motors launched Saturn, it purposely chose San Francisco-based ad agency Hal Riney & Partners to get outside the I-75 corridor. Ford moved all its import luxury brands, plus Lincoln, to Irvine, Calif., in 1999 in an attempt to tap into a more cosmopolitan workforce and trendy atmosphere. But that was a short-lived experience for Lincoln, and Ford later sold Jaguar, Land Rover, Volvo and Aston Martin.
Farley came to Ford in 2007 after running Lexus's luxury division. Sine then, Farley has talked about Lincoln as a brand that could be revitalized for Generation X and Generation Y, on the theory that brand preferences can skip a generation. Baby-boomers have not been very interested in Lincoln; most buyers were older than 70.
That average-age buyer has come down to 62, according to J.D. Power and Associates, with the help of more stylish products such as the Lincoln MKS, MKZ, MKX and MKT. At 2012's North American International Auto Show, Lincoln will show a new concept car. The company is expected to debut an updated design of the MKZ that will look substantially different from the current model, as well as a new entry-level sedan based on the Ford Focus engineering platform.
Lincoln last year kicked off a new ad campaign themed "Smarter Than Luxury," featuring actor John Slattery of current "Mad Men" fame.
The ads should come across as urbane and tonally correct for the luxury car category, but they haven't been attention-getters. Whereas Farley's former brand has taken care to distance its cachet from its mass-market Toyota rival, the Ford marketing chief told HuffPost he is looking at using the improving reputation and brand credibility of Ford to help Lincoln.
"We might even have the Ford brand in our communications, as in 'Lincoln. From Ford Motor Co.,'" said Farley. "It's something we are thinking about."
Lincoln's own new "Mad Men" handling ad duties at the new Team Lincoln will be Cameron McNaughton, a veteran automotive ad executive who has worked on both Mercedes-Benz and Audi, and Chief Creative Officer John Pearce, who most recently was an executive creative director at agency BBH/NY.
Some of the staff of the new agency are coming from Team Detroit's offices in Dearborn, and the rest will be recruited from the outside.