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‘SNL’ spoof helps Lincoln drive sales of its MKC

Matthew McConaughey and Jim Carrey may have finally figured out how to make Lincoln hip.

Sales of Ford’s lagging luxury line soared 25 percent last month after comedian Carrey spoofed McConaughey’s moody commercials for the new Lincoln MKC sport-utility vehicle on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” The small SUV had its best sales month ever as Carrey imitated McConaughey’s sotto voce musings on life as he rolls down a dark city street. The original ads began airing the previous month.

Lincoln is benefiting from the introduction of its all-new MKC, an entry in the hot small crossover segment, which has met with positive reviews by car critics. In addition to the marketing campaign, the brand has received extra attention through parodies including on the animated show “South Park.”

Carrey’s satirical take on “SNL,” viewed more than 7 million times on YouTube.com, caught fire in social media, giving Lincoln the kind of buzz it hasn’t seen since the Kennedy administration. That buttresses Ford’s multibillion-dollar investment to try to make Lincoln relevant again, starting with models like the MKC, aimed at young strivers with a $33,995 starting price, the lowest among compact luxury SUVs.

“For a brand like Lincoln, that buzz is helping them quite a bit,” said John Krafcik, president of TrueCar.com and a former Ford engineering executive. “Jim Carrey was magnificent in his spoof. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t absolutely loved that.”

In the fake ads, a staple of the show since the ’70s, Carrey slouches behind the wheel of an MKC, rolling thumb and forefinger as McConaughey does in one of his Lincoln ads.

“Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward,” Carrey says in the parody that suggested the finger roll came after an act of nasal grooming. “And I don’t mean go back and reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean take a big step back. Like go from winning an Oscar to doing a car commercial.”

Ford has embraced the parodies, much like General Motors capitalized on the social-media sensation created last week when a nervous Chevrolet sales manager bungled his presentation of a pickup to World Series Most Valuable Player Madison Bumgarner. GM quickly tweeted the manager’s ad-lib that the Chevy truck had “technology and stuff,” and the automaker has since included the line in its advertising.

“It’s fun to see how the team at Lincoln have decided to lean into that in a similar fashion to how the folks at Chevrolet have leaned into ‘technology and stuff,’” Krafcik said. For Lincoln, landing Oscar winner McConaughey “was impeccable timing. Everything that’s happened since indicates that it was a very, very savvy move.”

Ford still has a long road ahead to turn around Lincoln, still an afterthought in the U.S. luxury race, after sales fell 65 percent through last year from their 1990 peak. Lincoln had its best October in seven years, yet its 8,883 deliveries last month were less than a third of the 30,602 that BMW reported.

The MKC’s nascent success is a small step forward for Chief Executive Mark Fields’ plan to revive Lincoln, best known in recent years for the Town Car, an airport shuttle for business travelers that the company no longer makes. He revealed plans in September to invest $2.5 billion in Lincoln over the next five years to introduce the brand in China and roll out eight new models by 2020. Lincoln debuted the MKZ sedan last year and plans to introduce redesigned versions of its MKX SUV and MKS big sedan next year.

McConaughey’s MKC commercials debuted in September and were quickly parodied by talk show hosts Ellen DeGeneres and Conan O’Brien.

The actor, who turned 45 Tuesday, has undergone a career renaissance that Lincoln would covet. After years of appearing in forgettable romantic comedies such as “Failure to Launch,” he sought more substantial roles and won an Oscar this year for his portrayal of a Texas party boy with AIDS in “Dallas Buyers Club.”

The association with McConaughey is bringing younger buyers into Lincoln showrooms and onto its website, said John Felice, Ford’s U.S. sales chief.

“People come in here and say, ‘Oh, he’s my favorite actor, he’s just wonderful,’” J.T. Hartman, sales manager at Jacky Jones Lincoln in Gainesville, Ga., said. “They talk more about Matt than the car. He is driving them in there.”

Ford is playing to its strengths to boost Lincoln sales initially with SUVs such as the MKC and the Navigator, Krafcik said.

“If you look at where Lincoln has permission to play successfully right away, it makes all the sense in the world that it’s on the utility side,” Krafcik said. “Ford, as a company, has a lot of credibility there.”

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