Mercury gets 'Lucky' with film
Ford brand Mercury tried its luck by marketing the Mariner through short films on its Web site exploring the lives of 10 people.
Indie-flick style campaign for the Ford brand cuts through the marketing clutter.
By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News
If Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury brand were a movie, critics might suggest it's a little short on character development. To that, Mercury says, "Meet the Lucky Ones."
In a bid to reach a new generation of buyers who tune out blatant marketing pitches, Mercury created "Meet the Lucky Ones," a film about the intertwining and sometimes bizarre lives of 10 people.
The film debuted in five episodes last year on www.mercuryvehicles.com
. It was passed out last week in DVD format to people at the 2005 North American International Auto Show and will be shown Wednesday at the Sundance Film Festival.
With a droll tone reminiscent of HBO's "Six Feet Under," the film explores the lives and attitudes of four men, four women, a 12-year-old girl, a Scandanavian exchange student/house boy and a frog named Cucumber.
The Mercury Mariner small SUV makes cameo appearances, but there's no mention of the vehicle or the Mercury brand.
"That was by design," said Linda Perry-Lube, Mercury's eBusiness marketing manager.
The campaign's goal is to entertain first and sell second. "We wanted to be engaging," Perry-Lube said.
It isn't the first time film has been used to build buzz about a brand. In the early 1990s, Taster's Choice aired a lengthy series of TV spots that depicted the evolution of a romance -- one that began over a cup of coffee.
The characters' up and downs became water-cooler conversation and raised the company's profile. More recently, upscale car brands Jaguar and BMW have used high-concept films to build interest.
Mercury is hoping it reaches media savvy, independent consumers who don't respond to "getting hit in the face" with a sales pitch, Perry-Lube said.
Mercury needs to draw new and younger buyers to capitalize on a number of new models, including the Mariner, Monterey minivan and Montego full-size sedan.
A new midsize sedan, the Milan, and Mariner Hybrid will arrive this fall, followed by a Mercury version of the Ford Freestyle crossover vehicle.
"We're not bringing all these products in to sell the same number of units that we did before," said Darry Hazel, Lincoln Mercury president.
Mercury's U.S. sales fell to 194,000 vehicles last year from 202,000 in 2003.
Nearly 500,000 visitors visited Mercury's Web site and clicked on the pages that feature episodes and character profiles. About 40 percent of those checked out information about the Mercury Mariner.
Of these visitors, 58 percent are female and 26 percent are between the ages of 21 and 34. The average Mercury customer is about 60.
But when Web surfers view "Meet the Lucky Ones" or examine the characters, the effect can be jarring. None of the characters have movie-star looks. Some, like Alan the Laundromat coin dispenser, and Mike, the banjo-playing dentist, border on creepy.
"It's the independent film sensibility," Perry-Lube said. "Short films must be edgier to have the desired impact."
Mercury and its ad agency, Wunderman Detroit, spared no expense in developing an avant-garde flavor. Ed Herbstman, the creative force behind HBP's "Da Ali G Show," was enlisted to write the script.
In naming it one 2004's best marketing campaigns, Adweek magazine said "Meet the Lucky Ones" has "the authentic quirkiness of an indie film without over-pushing product."
Matt Demmer, general manager of Jack Demmer Lincoln Mercury in Dearborn supports the idea.
"I like it, personally," Demmer said. "It's different and that's what's attractive."