Parodies of Lincoln ads prove all publicity is good

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News
Actor Matthew McConaughey’s series of Lincoln MKC ads have drawn attention — from comedians and TV writers.

"Saturday Night Live" was the latest to parody Lincoln Motor Co.'s newest MKC ads featuring Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey.

Like previous spoofs by Conan O'Brien, Ellen DeGeneres and "South Park," "Saturday Night Live" poked fun at McConaughey's serious, philosophical musings. It took shots at Lincoln's reputation as a brand for old people.

Auto ad parodies aren't unique to Lincoln: After Chrysler aired its "Halftime in America" ad during the 2012 Super Bowl, "Saturday Night Live" followed with a witty knock-off, giving the spot added life. And just last week, Chevrolet executive Rikk Wilde's bumbling, televised "technology and stuff" presentation of a pickup to World Series MVP pitcher Madison Bumgarner was turned into a public relations win by General Motors.

Experts say all those examples prove that for automakers, publicity — no matter how unscripted — is usually good.

Among comedian Jim Carrey's quips in the "Saturday Night Live" sketch a couple weekends ago: "Sometimes you have to go back to actually move forward. ... I mean take a big step back, like go from winning an Oscar to doing a car commercial."

In another spot, Carrey's kids complain he's driving 5 miles per hour, to which he responds: "Not bad, for a Lincoln."

While certainly not on-message — DeGeneres's skit has a reference to marijuana-laced brownies — Lincoln is welcoming the unexpected coverage, at least publicly. A spokesman said it's helped expose the brand to a much more diverse audience, and market research firms agree the attention has dramatically increased brand awareness among younger age groups.

"You can do things today (for a brand) that you couldn't do 10 years ago," said Michael Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. "All the ads and jokes help take the edge off, and make something like that more humorous than it was intended to be."

Lincoln spokesman Stephane Cesareo said all the parodies weren't expected, but Lincoln is making the best of them.

"We designed the campaign for the MKC to be able to create mass awareness about the vehicle," Cesareo said in an interview. "We're pleased by this additional coverage."

California-based digital marketing firm Amboee Brand Intelligence said the "Saturday Night Live" skit led to an increase — of more than 100 percent — in the brand's visibility online via mobile devices and across social media the night and day after the episode aired.

"All in all, SNL's skit this past weekend provided a major boost to Lincoln," the company said in an email.

In a similar manner, Chevy rolled with the extra attention from Wilde's comments: The brand took out ads and its executives sent tweets with the "technology and stuff" tagline.

Bernacchi said Lincoln is unique, though, in that so many different outlets are picking on its commercials — and at some point, the jokes will get old.

"If there's too many chuckles ... you want to be a brand, not the butt of a joke," Bernacchi said. "Initially, I don't think it hurts, but pretty soon somebody's going to be flagged for piling on."

Jokes, laughs, parodies

O'Brien was the first to parody the McConaughey ads, including sober voice-overs from McConaughey's role on HBO's dark "True Detective" series; the lines were dubbed over his real lines in the commercial. "The honorable thing for our species to do is stop reproducing, walk hand-in-hand into extinction," McConaughey says as he drives down a deserted highway in the MKC.

Comedy Central's "South Park" pokes fun at a line McConaughey utters in one of the commercials — "I've been driving a Lincoln since long before anybody paid me to drive one" — by putting a cartoon McConaughey behind the wheel of a rental Zipcar as he expresses his love for that brand, too.

DeGeneres's spoof was more lighthearted. She put herself in the backseat of the MKC as McConaughey stared down the large bull that blocks the road in one of the commercials. DeGeneres cracked jokes as McConaughey talked, and snacked on pot brownies. He's been linked to marijuana use in real life.

"Whatever you put in these brownies ... boy, are they delicious," DeGeneres said.

The bull wasn't spared, either.

"Maybe we should ask him to mooooooo-ve," she said.

No spike in sales

The attention-grabbing Lincoln ads come at a time when Ford Motor Co. is looking to revive its troubled luxury brand. Last month, executives said they plan to triple the brand's U.S. and China sales by 2020.

Ted Marzilli of market research firm YouGov BrandIndex said in an Oct. 23 post on its website that the ads — the real ones — have helped drive Lincoln awareness to its highest levels in years among older adults and potential buyers.

But all the attention hasn't translated to an increase in sales.

"Lincoln Motors' quirky Matthew McConaughey ads have given the car manufacturer some of the best ad awareness and consumer perception numbers they've had in a long time," Marzilli said, "but they seem to be having little effect on possible consumer purchases."

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