MOUNTAINEER INCLINES TOWARD WOMEN DRIVERS;LINCOLN- MERCURY MOVES INTO SPORT-UTILITY SEGMENT

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Lincoln-Mercury, climbing into the hot sport-utility segment with its new Mercury Mountaineer, is looking to women to power sales.

The division of Ford Motor Co. is projecting that as much as 60% of its 30,000 first-year Mountaineer buyers will be women. Toward that end, the estimated $40 million introductory campaign will use targeted media and ads set more on streets than off-road, said John Keilly, Mountaineer brand manager.

STARTING MAY 6

Lincoln-Mercury breaks a 15-second teaser spot May 6 on network and cable. The main TV blitz hits May 23 during prime-time shows like NBC's "Seinfeld" and continues through June 30 with appearances during the Women's Open golf tournament. Male-targeted buys include sporting events like the NBA playoffs.

Young & Rubicam, Detroit, has developed two 30-second commercials so far, but Mr. Keilly hinted there may be more.

One spot shows a mountain flying out of the sky and the vehicle appearing, Mr. Keilly said. The commercial, dubbed "Mountain," announces Mercury has a sport-utility vehicle. The follow-up spot shows the Mountaineer's versatility, he said.

The advertising gets across the idea that Mountaineer delivers strength and confidence in a comfortable package, Mr. Keilly said. The theme line is "Comfort and capability," and the campaign also continues the "Imagine yourself in a Mercury" tagline developed last fall.

Print ads will run in mass-circulation magazines like Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, as well as female-skewed Mirabella, and Martha Stewart Living.

"We're doing a lot regionally too," Mr. Keilly said. Mercury will work with dealers on regional promotions to attract educated professional women, displaying the sport-utility at women's golf and Race for the Cure breast cancer events.

RESEMBLES THE EXPLORER

Critics have said the Mountaineer looks too much like a Ford Explorer, and part of Ford's challenge will be to prevent the Mountaineer from cannibalizing Explorer sales.

BETTER RESALE VALUE

The Mountaineer should have a higher resale value than the Explorer in two years because it's a 1997 model, while the current Explorer is a '96 model, said John Cater, a central New York state Lincoln-Mercury dealer.

"We don't really care that it's not much different" than an Explorer because the sport-utility segment is too popular for a dealer to be excluded, Mr. Cater said.

Another challenge for Ford: pricing the Mountaineer right, an area where the carmaker fumbled when it launched the new Taurus. Lincoln-Mercury will announce Mountaineer prices today.

GOING UP AGAINST LAREDO

Mr. Keilly said Mercury's main competitor will be Chrysler Corp.'s Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo, which costs between $28,000 and $32,000. Mr. Cater said he'd like to see the base Mountaineer priced at less than $30,000, so that when options are added, the price would be $32,000 to $34,000.

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