NEAL RUBIN

McConaughey's impact for Lincoln is 'alright, alright'

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

For the record, says the Lincoln executive who works alongside him, Matthew McConaughey has been a pleasure to deal with.

He has even contributed to the writing of his commercials.

But in the Academy Award winner's fifth month as Lincoln's slightly-out-of-alignment spokesman, it's time to ask a key question:

Is he moving the merchandise?

First up with a response from the North American International Auto Show is Andrew Frick, who until a promotion last Monday was the Lincoln Group Marketing Manager:

"It's hard to say what percentage is attributable to what."

Next, there's Kelsey Mays, consumer affairs editor of Cars.com:

"Yes and no."

These things, however, we know for certain:

Lincoln sales were up almost 16 percent in 2014, and only the people who paid to see McConaughey in "Surfer, Dude" and still hold a grudge would deny him a piece of the credit.

And, his ads are a heck of a lot more appealing than the animated blobs of phlegm or toenail fungus hawking products elsewhere in your cable box.

Or, if you want to find a midpoint between toenail fungus and an A-list actor, he's a lot more appealing than Gary Busey.

He reached out to Ford

In one spot, McConaughey ruminates about life directions as he and his recently introduced Lincoln MKC stand face-to-face with a bull on a rural highway. "That's a big bull," he observes.

In one of the most recent ads, for the MKZ sedan, he says exactly three words.

"That's one of the things he liked most," Frick says. "He's not up there talking about 20 features and benefits of our vehicles."

As McConaughey notes in one of the ads, he was a Lincoln driver before anyone paid him to be. In fact, Frick says, it was McConaughey's people who contacted Lincoln, not the other way around.

"He wanted to do something automotive," Frick says, a notion that may have been spawned after he was contacted by several companies he didn't have a history with.

The next step was a visit to Ford headquarters in Dearborn, where "we had a conversation about where our brand was going and what he wants from his brand," Frick says.

Not long after that, McConaughey was philosophizing with a Texas longhorn and the spots were being parodied by "Saturday Night Live," "South Park," and any teenager with a cell phone and an imagination.

That's a bonus, Frick says. And, says Cars.com's Mays, they were funny.

Quiet speaks loudly

The well-reviewed MKC, a smaller luxury SUV, "is a pretty decent car," Mays says. Sales-wise, that helps.

So did an increase in dealer supply about the time the first commercials hit the air. Yet with no increase in incentives, Mays says Lincoln finished the year as America's fastest-growing, non-exotic luxury brand.

McConaughey, Mays concludes, "certainly did something to move the sales needle."

He just didn't do everything — though from Frick's standpoint, he did plenty.

With a boost from McConaughey, Frick says, people who hadn't thought about Lincoln in years were suddenly talking about it ... even if McConaughey really didn't.

One of the MKZ ads released this month, for the hybrid model, has him pondering the "balance where taking care of yourself takes care of more than just yourself."

It doesn't say anything directly about the car and ends with a line McConaughey contributed on the fly: "That's the sweet spot."

In another, he's in a diner, sitting quietly next to a rain-streaked window. "There we go," he finally says.

What he means is that the rain has stopped. Potential buyers see him open the sedan's panoramic roof and drive away.

"We tried to let quiet be one of the loudest voices in the room," Frick says.

It's a great concept. Given what else we're stuck watching, let's hope it catches on.

nrubin@detroitnews.com

@nealrubin_dn