The McConaughey Factor: 5 Questions With Lincoln’s John Emmert


Matthew McConaughey - Lincoln - Perfect Rhythm

Lincoln is about half-way toward tripling its sales volume, its goal for 2020 over 2014 levels, and its marketing partnership with Matthew McConaughey gets a substantial share of the credit for that. So do a handful of worthy new vehicles that the Ford-owned luxury brand has fielded over the last few years.

Now, Lincoln is debuting one of its most widely-anticipated and timely models ever—an all-new version of its big-body Navigator SUV—and once again, the much-decorated, enigmatic actor with broad appeal is helping to do the honors.

In a new campaign launching this week, in the height of the year-end luxury-car sales frenzy, Lincoln is breaking a new campaign featuring McConaughey in a Navigator doing what he does best: saying little, implying much more.

The “Perfect Rhythm” spot simply shows McConaughey stopping his Navigator for a railroad crossing, guessing correctly that a train is on its way even before the gate comes down, drumming on the steering wheel until the train passes, correctly calling when the signal will stop, smiling at his perfect timing—while a camera roams the interior of the vehicle to show off the sumptuous amenities offered by the first significantly overhauled version of the nameplate in a decade.

John Emmert“‘Perfect Rhythm’ is our launch spot,” John Emmert, Lincoln’s marketing manager (right), told brandchannel. McConaughy doesn’t have any dialogue, “but what’s really interesting about the spot is this idea around one of those moments where everything is going your way. He’s on a journey of sorts, where he’s kind of in the zone and he’s just in that moment. Tapping along to a rhythm of the things that are happening around him. It gives us a chance to showcase the vehicle, exterior and interior and beautiful scenery in the Pacific Northwest.”

It may seem counterproductive for Lincoln to stage the marketing launch of this crucial vehicle in the midst of the zenith of holiday messaging by competing auto brands that are all trying to get their pieces of what has become a very important seasonal market for premium marques.

“But when you look at luxury and the luxury automotive industry, the last two months of the year is a very high-volume period,” Emmert noted. “That’s where everybody is really active in luxury, more so than in non-luxury. So this time of year makes sense; a lot of people are thinking about buying luxury vehicles.”

Nearly given up for dead by previous CEO Alan Mulally, and revived under recently ousted CEO Mark Fields, Lincoln has a long way to go to recall its glory days of a generation ago. It’s aiming at 300,000 sales globally in 2020; this year’s sales in the US will be north of 100,000, and more than 45,000 in China, where Lincoln started just a few years ago.

Lincoln Experience Center - Newport Beach, Califoria

Like other luxury brands, Lincoln is testing new ways to embed itself in the lifestyle of premium consumers, including offering a subscription service similar to what Cadillac has done, and introducing its Lincoln Experience Center (LEC) showroom concept to tony Fashion Island, an outdoor mall overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach, California. The space has a few cars but no salespeople, and visitors can order espresso or sparkling water from a bar while their dogs can enjoy water and Lincoln-branded treats as they peruse the models on display.

Lincoln Experience Center - The Star in Frisco, Texas

“We’ve opened another one in Dallas as well,” Emmert said of its new location at The Star in Frisco, Texas (above). “The Experience Center is great because it puts Lincoln into an environment where affluent luxury customers are … where the right kind of people will come through and have the chance to experience our product in an environment that isn’t transactional.”

“We can still connect them with a dealer but one thing we’re seeing is people who might not have Lincoln on their radar leave LECs with a much higher opinion of Lincoln.”

brandchannel talked with Emmert about the new Navigator on the even of its big launch, as well as working with McConaughey, the Lincoln Experience Center retail rollout and more:

John, how would you describe Lincoln’s competitive position these days?

It started with the new MKZ, MKC, MKX and Continental. We’ve got the new Navigator. We introduced a freshened MKC in LA at the auto show [in November]. There’s also coming a new Lincoln Nautilus. which is the successor to MKX in the lineup.

Our U.S. retail sales are up this year by 5%, which is pretty significant when you look at the overall luxury part of the (U.S. auto) industry, which is down. We’re off to our strongest start since 2007. In 2015 we crossed the 100,000 overall sales mark for first time since 2007. Both cars and utilities are up and we’re seeing tremendous momentum in China, where we’re up almost 100% over last year. That helps us everywhere.

What do you still need to accomplish in terms of the brand’s renaissance?

Our products have achieved world-class stature but what else do we need to do? We’re saying the products are great and need to bring along the world-class client experiences. Pick-up and delivery launched in 2016 and gained momentum through this year. Service satisfaction has spiked up. We’re working toward this ecosystem of services that deliver warm, human and personally-crafted experiences. This is the ethos of our brand. We want to deliver this idea of effortlessness. With luxury, consumers are expecting more than great products.

We’ve got the subscription service and a personal-driver service being piloted. We’ve just announced a partnership with Clear in 2018—all Lincoln owners will get a six-month Clear membership, and Black Label members will get a 12-month membership. [Clear saves members time ushering them through airport security areas.] Saving time is the new luxury.

Our subscription service is lower-priced because these are pre-owned vehicles so the benefit of the subscription fee is that it incorporates [car] payments, insurance and maintenance into one payment for a one-month commitment. It gives you a lot of flexibility.

What’s the significance of the new Navigator, particularly given how every brand now seems to be focusing on enhancing or adding large SUVs?

For us, it represents a big step forward in terms of competitiveness in this segment. It’s a big vehicle in a relatively small segment, but a stable one. It’s really the flagship utility for us and sets the tone for the rest of our utility lineup. It’s important to have a strong presence there.

And it’s actually our youngest and  most affluent customer. The utility that comes along with a vehicle the size of Navigator—it’s a great vehicle for families. We found out that most of the folks that influence the purchase decision and actually drive the Navigator are women. These people tend to be aspirational folks in areas that tend to be thought leaders.

Is there any chance Lincoln will appear in a Super Bowl ad? We know that Ford generally has disdained Big Game advertising.

We are not going to be in the Super Bowl.

Lincoln - Matthew McConaughey - Perfect Rhythm

How are you using Matthew McConaughey in your marketing these days?

We’ve been using him primarily for our new vehicle launches. He helps generate that kind of mass awareness that we need to get Lincoln noticed. It gets us on the list of luxury buyers who might not have Lincoln on their list. It builds awareness and credibility for our brand.

What’s really cool about Matthew is he’s a great partner. He’s a fan of the brand and has history with the brand prior to the [marketing] relationship with us [most notably, in the movie The Lincoln Lawyer.] That makes the relationship feel authentic.

When we look at the data people pay attention, our ads break through. When they see Matthew, they pay attention to what’s in front of them. It’s a strong association for us. We track in-market luxury intenders, and nine out of 10 correctly identify Matthew as associated with Lincoln. I’ve not seen that strong of an association elsewhere. When they see Matthew, they think of Lincoln.

We do our creative in partnership with Matthew. Well ahead of production, we’ll have conversations with Matthew about his input and it’s very collaborative process, not just delivering a line.

Sometimes we’ll put creative execution in front of him with a script, and those scripts serve mostly as guidelines. What Matthew does really well is look at the intent of the message we’re trying to get across and he puts that expression into how he would say it.

He can telegraph a lot without saying  much. There are some ads that have dialogue, some not; some with few words, some with a lot. What’s universal about the work we’ve done with him is they all perform very well and all break through, whether he’s speaking or not. And of course his early work for us became part of the cultural zeitgeist.

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