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Old 08-27-2004, 08:44   #1 (permalink)
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US:Mercury hopes ads open doors

Mercury hopes ads open doors

Young buyers target of new marketing

BY SARAH A. WEBSTER
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER

The Mercury brand on Thursday unveiled a new marketing campaign featuring elegant ads that focus on discovery, and pop-rock music from Grammy Award-winning artist Paula Cole.

The multimedia campaign, called New Doors Opened, comes at a time when Ford Motor Co. is about to expand the product lineup for Mercury, a brand stationed between the mainstream Ford and upscale Lincoln brands, into segments it has not sold in before.

Mercury launched the campaign with a performance by Cole in New York City.

Over the next four years, Mercury will receive six new vehicles. That includes the Milan, the brand's first entry-level sedan, which will go into production in the third quarter of 2005. A sketch of the vehicle was revealed at the announcement.

The Mercury Montego, the first new sedan in the lineup in 20 years, and the Mariner, a compact SUV, arrive in showrooms this fall. A gas-electric hybrid version of the Mariner will debut in 2007. The Mariner is based on the Ford Escape.

Mercury also plans to introduce a new crossover vehicle. Ford hasn't released details about the sixth new vehicle.

Today's Mercury buyer ranges from about age 40 for the Mountaineer SUV to about 60 for the Grand Marquis full-size sedan, said John Fitzpatrick, general marketing manager for the Lincoln-Mercury division.

While sales are down just 1 percent through August, annual sales for Mercury have plummeted over the past five years by more than half, to 202,257 cars and trucks last year.

So the new campaign is about discovery, new possibilities and attracting a stable of new 35- to 45-year-old customers, said Lance Paull, creative director at Mercury's advertising agency, New York-based Y&R Brands.

The campaign will kick off on Sept. 10 during the U.S. Open tennis tournament, and 11 new ads will be shown on network and cable television. A new song to be featured in the pieces, "It's My Life," was written by Cole and produced by Don Was, a Detroit native, with input from Mercury and Y&R.

Cole is best known for two songs off her 1996 "This Fire" album: "Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?" and "I Don't Want to Wait," which is also the theme song to "Dawson's Creek." She was also subsequently nominated for seven Grammys in 1997, taking home one award for Best New Artist. Cole also has performed in the Lilith Fair tour with other female singer-songwriters, but hasn't released a CD since 1999's "Amen."

Unlike an advertisement campaign that fell flat at crosstown rival Chrysler, which featured music and imagery from Grammy Award winner Celine Dion, Cole, 36, is not expected to appear in the spots, Fitzpatrick said.

The campaign will be fully integrated online, where consumers can download "It's My Life," and spots will also appear in a variety of magazines and print media.

Fitzpatrick said Mercury decided not to use existing music to prevent consumers from thinking, "I know that song -- what's new about this?"

"We're after customers who want a new experience," he said.

Michael Bernacchi, professor of advertising and marketing at University of Detroit Mercy, said it's "extraordinarily difficult" to turn around a brand such as Mercury, which suffers from some of the musty malaise that has plagued similar brands, such as Oldsmobile, Buick and Chrysler, in recent years.

"Everybody wants to get younger," said Bernacchi, who noted that it's possible. "Cadillac has done it, and Chrysler is doing great with the 300."

In the end, Bernacchi said Mercury will have to add the products to back up the new image.

"Are they doing more than slapping a song on?" he asked. "If they don't, this may be their last gasp."
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