FORD UNIT VEERS TO MANAGING BRANDS

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The gospel of brand management is spreading through the automotive industry.

Joining the trend is Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln-Mercury division, after it studied the way non-automotive marketers like Kraft Foods and Whirlpool Corp. manage key marketing elements with the goal of building brand equity.

Lincoln-Mercury named five car line managers to head up teams responsible for ensuring that product features and marketing programs match both the image for the model and the overall brand.

The car line managers will be "directly responsible for overseeing brand image," said Keith Magee, VP-general manager of Lincoln-Mercury.

The change comes as Lincoln-Mercury reportedly plans to broaden its lineup with two new sport-utility vehicles. A version of the compact Ford Explorer will be launched as the Mercury Mountaineer next year, and a spinoff of the full-size Ford Bronco is expected in 1997.

In addition to looking at Kraft and Whirlpool, Lincoln-Mercury examined the move to brand management at General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac, according to Sheldon Wardwell, dealer relations manager and a member of the Lincoln-Mercury committee that studied possible changes for about a year.

GM is putting a Pontiac-like brand management system into place across all its divisions, a move being driven by Ronald Zarrella, group VP-North American sales, service and marketing (AA, May 1). Pontiac studied package-goods marketer Procter & Gamble Co. before establishing its brand teams.

While there are some differences between the GM and Ford approaches, they share a move to a horizontal organization in which brand teams are empowered to make decisions and tradeoffs.

As part of the reorganization at Lincoln-Mercury, advertising manager Dale Jones takes the new position of marketing communications manager.

"The move to brand management in the auto industry is being driven by the need to work the voice of the customer into the process," said John Vanderzee, chairman of Young & Rubicam, Detroit, Lincoln-Mercury's agency.

Y&R staff members participated in the study team, and the agency will assign account managers and members of its strategic planning group to work with the car line teams, Mr. Vanderzee said.

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