August 21, 2014

Ford looks to McConaughey to revive Lincoln brand

Nicolas Winding Refn, who won best director for Drive at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, will helm the ad.

Ford is turning to The Lincoln Lawyer — Texas actor Matthew McConaughey, star of the 2011 movie named for the automaker’s luxury line —to sell the brand to younger buyers after a 65 percent drop in sales since 1990.

McConaughey, 44, will debut next month in an ad introducing Lincoln’s new MKC sport utility vehicle. As part of the two-year endorsement deal, the actor “invites viewers to experience the vehicle through unscripted moments,” Ford, based in Dearborn, Mich., said Thursday.

The automaker didn’t disclose the cost of the collaboration.

In the film The Lincoln Lawyer, the actor plays Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller, who operates from the back of a Lincoln Town Car.

As part of its $1 billion makeover of Lincoln, Ford stopped producing the Town Car as it seeks to lose the brand’s image as an airport shuttle for business travelers. The MKC is aimed at young strivers and starts at $33,995, the lowest price among compact luxury SUVs.

“The MKC is the most promising product they have, and they’re looking for a way to break through,” said Michelle Krebs, a senior analyst for researcher “Matthew McConaughey is contemporary and he’s hot right now.”

Lincoln lacks the edge and hipness that McConaughey conveys, Krebs said. The aged luxury line probably hopes to borrow on his edginess to attract attention to an auto brand forgotten by many, Krebs said.

McConaughey, known earlier in his career as a glib leading man in films like The Wedding Planner, has recently taken on more complicated characters like the AIDS-afflicted activist in Dallas Buyers Club and the alcoholic renegade cop in HBO’s True Detective.

He won the Best Actor Oscar for 2013’s Dallas Buyers Club and is nominated for an Emmy next week for his leading role in True Detective.

McConaughey is a “longtime admirer of Lincoln,” according to the statement. He said he was attracted to the deal because “I would be able to be myself in this collaboration.”

Nicolas Winding Refn, who won a best director award for Drive at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, will helm the ad.

This isn’t the first time that Ford has turned a celebrity into a pitchman for Lincoln. Four years ago, Lincoln had actor John Slattery, who plays Roger Sterling on AMC’s Mad Men, star in its commercials in an attempt to lure younger buyers.

Lincoln’s U.S. sales rose 16 percent this year through July, compared with a year earlier, when sales fell to a 32-year low. Lincoln ranks eighth among luxury brands sold in the U.S. and it’s outsold by almost 2-to-1 by General Motors’ Cadillac line. A year’s worth of Lincoln sales would not fill half a Ford factory.

Last year, Alan Mulally, then Ford’s CEO, considered killing Lincoln, according to two people familiar with the matter. Mark Fields, who became CEO on July 1, convinced Mulally that Lincoln was worth saving to give Ford buyers a luxury alternative.

The automaker is redesigning the Lincoln lineup with models that appear less like chromed-up versions of everyday Fords.

“You have to be well-respected as an actor to carry the weight of a luxury brand on your shoulders,” said Paul Dergarabedian, senior media analyst at Rentrak.

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