Mercury will exclusively use Fox for the network portion of the campaign.
"We talked to all the networks, and Fox really nailed it with their audience," said Ian Beavis, marketing communications manager of Lincoln Mercury division.
The carmaker is thinking younger with the new Cougar, with a key target of 25-to-39-year-olds. Overall, Mercury is trying to woo younger buyers and update its image to appeal to individualists with the new positioning of "fun, flair and flexibility."
The expected $40 million media budget for Cougar this year would be a huge increase from 1997, when the old model garnered less than $1 million in support, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
The network portion is only a small part of the integrated marketing and ad push for Cougar, which Mr. Beavis called "the first product manifestation of Mercury's new brand promise."
A bigger chunk of the budget will go into print and cable, he added, including a deal with Discovery Communications.
This week, Mercury kicks off an exclusive, multiyear sponsorship of Discovery Online's "Mercury Planet of Wonders," a new area on the Web site (www.discovery.com) initially tied to the Cougar launch and then other Mercury models. Scientists will report this year on nature-theme topics from four countries.
It's the Discovery Web site's first multiyear deal. The online program will be promoted on cable's Discovery Channel; both Mercury (www.mercury.com) and Discovery also will promote it with banners on their Web sites.
When the cable channel produces TV programming from the expeditions, Mercury will participate, Mr. Beavis said.
Y&R Advertising, Detroit, created four humorous, national TV spots that keep the "Imagine TV" channel-surfing format introduced in last fall's Mercury brand campaign.
Each commercial has several short vignettes. Two vignettes use actor R. Lee Ermey in the drill-instructor role he portrayed in a Coors Light commercial and the film "Full Metal Jacket."
In one vignette, he wants to know "which clown" drove his Cougar. As the camera pans the soldiers, a guy in a clown outfit is among them. In another vignette, a b&w spoof of an old jungle movie shows a native warning explorers about a real cougar cat, but they think he's referring to the car parked nearby.
The Cougar and Mercury names get more exposure in this round of spots than in the earlier brand commercials.
"It's all about recognition," Mr. Beavis said, "and we tried to get the cars more into the spots."
New cable channels on the media schedule include ESPN1 and Comedy Central.
Print ads, which started trickling out in March issues of several magazines, get a major push in May and run through September. New titles for the brand's ad schedule include Maxim.
Outdoor runs in 30 markets with the copy line, "Wild . . . 1999 Mercury Cougar."
CYBER CAFE TOUR
Later this year, Mercury plans a touring "Cyber Cafe" co-branding effort with Starbucks Coffee Co., T.G.I. Friday's restaurants and Discover. Two tractor trailers will visit the partners' stores offering online experiences and a Cougar display.
Cougar's pre-launch activities started with a Web promotion (www.1999cougar.com) in January (AA, Jan. 12). It was followed by an extensive direct-mail program via Wunderman Cato Johnson.
Lincoln Mercury dealer Bruce Caudill said he's had Cougar inquiries from people who learned of the car via the Net.
"It's nice to see younger buyers in here," Mr. Caudill said. "Our sales people are very excited. A couple of them already ordered the car for themselves."