The Lincoln and Buick brands have been making a concerted effort over the past couple of years to re-position and reinvigorate themselves in the eyes of U.S. car buyers. However, in an automotive world cluttered with regular and luxury offerings across almost every possible vehicle type, it’s a significant challenge given the outdated equity baggage Lincoln and Buick both carry. For example, when I think of Lincoln, I picture my grandfather’s white Continental with red interior circa 1982 and can almost feel the sway of the boat-like ride from the few times I rode in it. Buick harkens thoughts of older, mid-level salesmen, in brown, utilitarian sedans: see the 1980’s versions of the Buick Century, Riveria and LeSabre, among others. But that’s just me.
Conscious of the brands’ histories and how potential car buyers currently perceive them, Lincoln and Buick have taken two different communications approaches to shed their antiquated equity and get potential purchasers to at least add them to their consideration sets. Both began and have continued since late 2014, and despite the differences in approaches, both have merit.
By now, most have seen (or should have seen) Lincoln’s ads starring Matthew McConaughey. These started with the MKC but most recently have focused on the flagship Continental. While it’s unlikely that viewers can play back McConaughey’s various existential musings, his look, tone, feel, sound and presence in the spots is what Lincoln is betting will get consumers to think differently about the brand. This emotion-instilling approach is working – consumers seem to feel differently about the brand, despite being devoid of any tangible benefit communication. Lincoln has seen an uptick in sales since the launch of the campaign, and the fact that the brand has continued in this vein and spread it across even more sub-brands is also an indication of its effectiveness. The subsequent spoofs on SNL and Ellen following the initial airings further boosted the visibility and engagement and arguably helped to legitimize them too.
In contrast, Buick has taken a more traditional, consumer insight-driven approach in their latest ongoing campaign. Realizing that consumers have a certain image of what a Buick looks like (it’s not all that positive), as well as who typically drives one (hint: it’s not them), the brand has attempted to overcome these purchase barriers by cleverly showing how their latest vehicles are not only unrecognizable as Buicks, but also are largely driven by 30-somethings. In this way, Buick is trying to better resonate with a younger audience, getting them to think differently (and more positively) about the brand, and ultimately influencing some potential buyers to consider Buick as an option. The ubiquitous line, “That’s not a Buick!,” call to action, “Take a fresh look at Buick,” and choice casting are all clear indicators of this intent. They even upped the campaign with a recent Super Bowl spot featuring Cam Newton and Miranda Kerr, so something is probably working.
So which approach is better? The easy answer is that both work. Lincoln’s unique and borderline esoteric approach breaks through the normal car ad clutter with an equity-focused campaign that attempts to re-establish the American luxury brand in a premium and aspirational way. It’s the look, tone, and feel of the spots that work to bolster the premium equity that Lincoln has been working to rebuild. Buick’s more straightforward consumer insight/purchase barrier identification/overcome purchase barrier communication approach is also effective. Buick clearly understands their brand and their consumer, and by addressing key purchase barriers, they are shifting the positioning of their brand to one that might actually be worth considering among a consumer target that normally would not have thought of the brand before.
Declaring a long-term victory of a successful re-positioning is still far away, but Lincoln and Buick both demonstrate viable, strategic attempts at re-vitalizing their older brands. One succeeds with emotions and imagery, while the other with a head-on addressment of significant consumer purchase barriers. And while these brands are still low on my list of potential car options, after watching the latest Lincoln Continental spot, the image of my grandfather’s white boat is slowly starting to fade.
Check out examples of the different campaigns here: