|Scene from an episode of Mercury's 'The Neverything.'
The result: "Lovely By Surprise" and "The Neverything" have helped lure younger buyers for the Milan and Zephyr sedans and attracted customers who don't typically consider the two car brands -- all without much product placement.
When Mercury suddenly had a hit on its hands with the Web series "Meet the Lucky Ones," Ford Motor Co. quickly moved to follow up the effort with another online film project.
The automaker launched one Web site (www.lovelybysurprise.com) around Lincoln's Zephyr sedan and another around Mercury's new Milan (www.theneverything.com) in March, promoting the vehicles through offbeat plots that aren't typically the norm when it comes to branded entertainment.
For example, Lincoln's site tells the story of an aspiring female novelist whose fiction overtakes her life. The lives of her book's quirky characters -- two young brothers who live in their underwear on a houseboat parked in a barren field eating only sugary cereal -- unfold on Mercury's site.
The Milan and Zephyr are seen only briefly in the footage.
"If you blinked, you missed them," said Scott Kelly, digital marketing manager of Lincoln and Mercury. Mr. Kelly said he didn't want to "force commercials" into the Webisodes.
Both series were written and directed by Kirt Gunn, president of interactive agency Kirt Gunn & Associates, New York, which in addition to producing "Meet the Lucky Ones" developed a video game for Ford-owned Volvo. Ford brokered a six-month licensing deal with Mr. Gunn that started March 15, when the Web series were launched. The deal was handled by WPP Group's Y&R and Wunderman, Dearborn, Mich., while @radical Media serves as an executive producer on the project.
"We wanted to give [Mr. Gunn] complete creative control, so it became brand-sponsored content," Mr. Kelly said.
Both series completed their five-week runs last week, although the 10 episodes will remain online indefinitely.
Lincoln and Mercury advertised the films on sites like RunnersWorld.com and iFilm.com.
Mr. Gunn now plans to combine the footage into a 90-minute film using additional footage that he shot while on location in Nashville, Tenn., with cast members Kate Burton, Austin Pendleton, Carrie Preston and Dallas Roberts. The total budget is said to be around $500,000. Once complete, Mr. Gunn plans to make the rounds of film festivals in an effort to land distribution, and he is meeting with producers and distributors.
The yet untitled film will include a third plotline, which was not disclosed in the footage on the Web sites.
Ford is considering whether to extend its involvement with Mr. Gunn to in-cinema advertising for his feature-film version.
The online series are "like trailers for the film," Mr. Kelly said.
But for now, Mercury and Lincoln are reveling in the responses they've received.
As of mid-April, more than 275,000 people have visited "Lovely By Surprise" and "The Neverything," with half of those coming from unpaid blogs or chat boards, Mr. Kelly said.
Mr. Kelly credits the films with helping Mercury and Lincoln attract much younger buyers than it typically does for the two sedans. And it may have lured buyers who don't typically consider the brands when purchasing a new vehicle. Some 40% of Milan and Zephyr buyers are new to Ford Motor Co.
Additionally, some 130,000 people registered to win either a Milan or Zephyr. Mercury outperformed Lincoln, with 15,000 people from the film site requesting brochures, or 85% of all brochures requested online, including from Mercury's Web site (www.mercuryvehicles.com). For Lincoln it was 75% of all brochures.
Comparably, "Meet the Lucky Ones," which promoted Mercury's Mariner SUV, produced more than 33,100 leads for the vehicle, the company has said.
As a result of its recent online efforts, Mr. Kelly said that Lincoln is considering additional online film projects for the fall launches of its next-generation Navigator SUV and the MKX SUV, the successor to the smaller Aviator.