MERCURY PUMPS MUSCLE CAR WITH INFOMERCIALS

Aging Automaker Evokes the Joys of Speed and Screaming Rubber

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Ford Motor Co. is hoping its all-new Mercury Marauder high-performance sedan will rev up some
It's rear wheels smoking, a Mercury Marauder accelerates in an ad.
excitement for the aging brand.

"The Marauder is going to have a huge halo effect on Mercury," said Eric Koehler, assistant brand manager for the car. "What we're trying to do with Marauder is create interest in American muscle cars."

Infomercials
The unusual launch, from WPP Group's Y&R Cos., Irvine, Calif., includes infomercials, magazine ads in national auto enthusiast titles, direct mail, Internet ads and test drives as part of an event tour. The only national TV effort is a pair of 30-minute infomercials airing now periodically on cable's Speed Channel. They tout the heritage of the model, last made in 1969, and the new sedan's 302-horsepower engine.

Ford ran one 30-second spot

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on an infomercial last month, and Mr. Koehler said he is considering whether to air the spot elsewhere on national TV. "But since the car has such limited production, we're not sure it's the best use of our dollars."

He declined to discuss his launch budget, but the brand's first-quarter spending slipped significantly this year to $3 million in measured media from $17 million in the first quarter of 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

The automaker plans to sell 18,000 Marauders this year. The target is 85% male, between the ages of 45 and 55 and college-educated.

Older drivers
The marketer has its work cut out for it. The average age of buyers of Mercury's Grand Marquis sedan, from which Marauder is based, is 69; the average age across the brand is 62, a spokesman said. Ford has said in recent months it plans to revitalize Mercury, assigning two dedicated chief designers for the first time in many years.

Mercury sales slid in the first five months of 2002 by 22.8% to 102,400 from 132,580 units the same period a year ago, according to Advertising Age sibling Automotive News. The latest-generation Cougar coupe, which was supposed to woo younger buyers when it arrived in 1998, and the Villager minivan are being discontinued this year. That will leave the brand with just the new Marauder, the Sable and Grand Marquis sedans and the Mountaineer sport utility vehicle.

Still, Mercury has already gathered data from 85,000 people who asked for more info on the 2003 Marauder. Those prospects are getting a series of direct mailings from Y&R. The third went out June 20 and includes a DVD with the two infomercials and a test-drive invitation. Mr. Koehler said the auto-buff magazine advertising is taking Marauder to more than 20 million readers. Dealers have orders for 5,200 of the cars. Though the car officially went on sale July 1, it had been trickling into showrooms.

Blast past a Camaro
"Customers told us they want a wolf in sheep's clothing," Mr. Koehler said of the go-go Marauder. "When owners are at a traffic light next to a [Chevrolet] Camaro, they want to blast its doors off."

Dan Gorrell, vice president of auto consultancy Strategic Vision, said his first-quarter consumer research showed both Mercury owners and non-owners gave the brand low scores on its overall image.

"It doesn't carry any strong associations at this point in time that would motivate people to purchase other than that it's discounted."

Mixed messages
Mr. Gorrell said Mercury's mixed messages through its product lineup and advertising have left it virtually meaningless in consumers' minds. He compared Mercury to General Motors Corp. and its failed attempt to revive the Oldsmobile brand.

"Oldsmobile spent a lot of money [on a new lineup] and then GM pulled the plug," he said. "I suppose it's possible to bring Mercury back, but it would take a tremendous investment."

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