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Deborah wahl takes over national advertising for Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury Co. with two major ad campaigns on tap and two brand identities to remake.

Ms. Wahl, 36, succeeded Ian Beavis as Lincoln Mercury's marketing communications manager last month, coming from Mazda North American Operations, where she had been group manager of brand strategy and communication. Mr. Beavis moved to Bozell Worldwide, San Mateo, Calif., as global account director.


Ms. Wahl's first challenge comes quickly, as she oversees this month's launch of the $70 million marketing campaign for Lincoln's new LS sedan (AA, May 24). The smaller "luxury sport" car is meant to redefine the Lincoln brand, company officials have said.

"The big thing is to have a flawless LS launch, which is about to get into really high gear," she said.

The campaign, from Y&R Advertising, San Francisco, officially begins July 15 and is aimed at buyers younger than the late-50s owners typical of other Lincoln cars. It follows the 1997 introduction of the Navigator sport-utility vehicle in moving the brand away from dependence on large sedans.

With the LS, Lincoln will introduce the tagline "American luxury," which will attempt to differentiate the car from imports such as Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW.

That also will mean pushing into other new-product categories, Ms. Wahl said.

Following the LS, Ms. Wahl will turn to the fourth-quarter debut of the redesigned Mercury Sable. Here again, she said, the brand is seeking to remold its identity.

Ms. Wahl envisions recasting Mercury as "forward-thinking, expressive, individualistic," but repositioning efforts may prove tougher for that brand.

Mercury has had difficulty forging a strong identity, in part because of rebadged Ford products such as Sable and the subcompact Lynx (Taurus and Escort clones, respectively). Mercury sales fell 6.3% in 1998 to 410,186.


But Ms. Wahl said she has a track record at Mazda to use as a guide. The Mazda brand "had been going in a lot of different directions," said Ms. Wahl, who worked closely with Doner, Southfield, Mich., to build a more spirited, stylish identity around the "Get in. Be moved." tag.

Tim Blett, president-automotive at Doner, said Ms. Wahl directed a repositioning of the Mazda Protege from an "econobox that was on sale every day" to "a sexy car" aimed at younger buyers. And she faced serious questioning of the strategy to abandon traditional Protege buyers, he noted.

Ms. Wahl, who received her MBA in marketing from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania in 1992, joined Mazda after serving as Ford's marketing liaison manager and brand manager in Brazil, where she launched three vehicles in 18 months.

And if life at Lincoln Mercury gets too harried, she said she need only look back on her stint in Brazil.

"It's a wild market, a lot of ups and downs," she said. "It was actually great training. In the year and a half that I was there, I got about five years'

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