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FORD'S BRAND SETUP ROLLS ITS FIRST MODEL-YEAR BLITZ;AGENCY PAY CUT EVEN AS DIVISION AD BUDGET RISES 8% TO $610 MIL

By Published on .

Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division begins its 1997-model ad blitz Sept. 27 with as many as 16 commercials for 10 different marques and an increased magazine schedule.

Its Lincoln-Mercury Division kicks off its model-year ads shortly afterward.

This represents the first model-year efforts under Ford's brand management system, with each of the divisions' five brand managers working separately on strategies and execution with their counterparts at agencies J. Walter Thompson USA and Young & Rubicam, both Detroit.

Previously, the same agency staffs worked with division ad and marketing planning staffs on all models.

Ford Division's budget will be up 8%, translating into nearly $610 million annually based on Competitive Media Reporting's 1995 figure of $564.8 million. At the same time, however, Ad Manager Gerry Donnelly confirmed Ford has cut agency commissions.

He declined to give details or toFord's big blitz for `97 cars say whether the move was corporatewide or just divisional.

"If [agency] profits are higher than they should be, Ford makes an adjustment" but not always with a commission cut, said one JWT insider. He also declined to give specifics.

BUYS MORE TARGETED

Ford Division's new brand structure has made the advertising and media buys for '97 more targeted, said JWT's Dick Howting, exec VP-executive creative director, and as a result Ford is turning to more magazines. Print breaks in Sept. 30 issues of newsweeklies and Sports Illustrated.

The additional magazines support Ford's truck lines and the division's desire to reach more women. Ford expanded into 10 titles it didn't use in '96, including Mademoiselle, Martha Stewart Living and Self.

In the first few weeks of October, Ford's new, full-size Expedition sport utility vehicle, Ford Explorer, F-Series pickup and Taurus sedan will get the most exposure. Then, advertising for the Contour sedan, Escort station wagon, Mustang coupe, Ranger pickup and Windstar minivan will be added to the mix.

The hot-selling F-Series has three spots, the most for any Ford, and the pool includes a new humorous spot with actor Jack Palance continuing his role as a cowboy.

`GREEN ACRES' THEME USED

One Explorer ad targeted at baby boomers invokes '70s nostalgia by using the original "Green Acres" TV series theme song, sung by Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor.

Ranger ads target Generation Xers. One humorous spot features two guys using the truck's bed to wash their laundry, with the "spin cycle" whipping the truck around a dirt track.

The Aerostar minivan, Aspire coupe and sedan, and Crown Victoria sedan won't get any advertising.

"It becomes a matter of priorities," Mr. Donnelly said. "A lot of vehicles are regional."

That's why the Thunderbird coupe will get only print advertising, primarily in the Southeast.

For Ford's Lincoln-Mercury Division, print ads appear in October books, and TV breaks Oct. 14 during ABC's "NFL Monday Night Football," for the Mercury Sable sedan and station wagon, and Lincoln Continental sedan.

GRAND MARQUIS SUPPORTED

For the first time, Mercury is putting national ad dollars behind the Grand Marquis sedan, which had its best sales month since 1990 in August, with sales up 28% from last August.

Grand Marquis sales through August rose to nearly 70,000, up by more than 10% compared to last year.

Mercury sees an opportunity for even more growth for the Grand Marquis now that General Motors Corp. has abandoned the large, rear-wheel sedan segment, dropping the Chevrolet Caprice and Buick Roadmaster.

"The segment isn't growing, but our growth is coming from GM," said Dale Jones, Lincoln-Mercury's ad manager.

Mr. Jones has been promoted to a newly created brand strategic planning job for the U.S. and Europe, effective Oct. 1. His successor hasn't been named.

Lincoln-Mercury spent $213 million in measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

NO COMMENT ON CUTS

Mr. Jones declined comment on whether Lincoln-Mercury's agen-cy commissions have been cut, stating: "If we have, we wouldn't talk about it."

In recent years, GM cut its agency commissions from around 15% to 9%.

The Mercury brand is adopting a Sable-selling strategy tested in Canada by the division's new general manager, Jim O'Connor, who had been executive director of Ford's export operations.

New print and TV executions feature both the Sable station wagon and sedan at the same price, starting at $20,295. The headline: "Different shape. Same figure."

Ads keep the "Imagine yourself in a Mercury" tag introduced last fall.

Y&R's Detroit office has produced eight TV spots for seven models, and at least five print ads.

One spot will feature the Villager minivan.

LOWER PRICE HIGHLIGHTED

To spur slumping sales of the Lincoln Continental, Mark VIII and Town Car sedans, ads will tout the lower starting price of $37,950 that was announced last month.

Lincoln and Mark VIII newspaper ads will directly compare the vehicles to GM's Cadillac.

Town Car ads feature owners. For the first time since the sedan was launched in 1990, it has two TV spots, more than any other of the division's models this fall.

UniWorld Group, New York, Ford's African-American agency of record, has done a new TV spot for the Mercury Mountaineer SUV, introduced earlier this year. It uses singer Roberta Flack as narrator.

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