Jim Farley readily admits he's not particularly fond of Super Bowl commercials. But as the executive at Ford charged with re-energizing its Lincoln brand, he will play in the most expensive advertising market this year.
Farley says that for stalwart, well-known brands, he's not convinced a Super Bowl ad, which hovers around $8 million for a 60-second commercial, is a good value. But for a lesser-known brand looking for a boost, he thinks it could make sense if done the right way.
From a business perspective, Lincoln's Super Bowl ad will be one of the most intriguing stories in the battle to capture the eyeballs and attention of the biggest annual audience in U.S. television.
To understand why Lincoln is putting itself into the game, one has to understand where the brand came from. Two decades ago, Lincoln was the best-selling luxury car in America. But its owner, Ford, got distracted by other brands it had acquired, including Volvo, Aston Martin, Jaguar and Land Rover.
Now those brands have been sold off, and it's time to pay attention to Lincoln again.
The stark reality is that if something isn't done, the Lincoln brand won't survive. In 2011, Lincoln's average car buyer was 60 years old, the oldest in the entire business, according to automotive data company Polk.
Farley admits he won't sell any cars on a Super Bowl commercial alone, but he can start to turn the tide on the perception of the brand. The quest to make Lincoln more appealing to a younger audience will start Monday as the brand, at least in name, separates from its Ford owner by being called the Lincoln Motor Co. And it is introducing the MKZ, a midsize luxury sedan that's the first of four cars to be rolled out in the next four years.
Starting at $36,000, the car looks sleeker than your father's Lincoln and has more contour than the Town Car, the most visible car of its brand. The target market is a group called progressive luxury consumers, which is said to make up nearly 1 in 4 buyers of luxury vehicles in the U.S. The group is defined by buying for themselves instead of flaunting the car's logo as a status symbol.
If Farley was to do a Super Bowl ad, he insisted it be done in a way that wouldn't upstage Lincoln's effort but could also grab the attention of viewers who are looking to be entertained in the once-a-year spot.
Farley won't give specifics other than to say that the masses will help contribute to the spot through social media and a yet-to-be-announced celebrity curator, who is responsible for gathering and choosing what will go in the spot.
It's one thing to use the Super Bowl to get people to buy domain names from GoDaddy; it's another thing to sell cars. Farley says the value of buying an ad these days is introducing it before the game and getting buzz after it. Combined with a new car and different welcoming strategies (such as the opportunity for a prospective buyer to give the car a spin for a weekend), Lincoln hopes it can make a comeback and be top of mind -- just like its namesake.