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Ford Motor Co.'s 1998 Lincoln Town Car debuts on network and cable TV tonight in a $5 million push that will run through yearend.

The so-called "soft launch" -- eschewing the big ad blitz of many car introductions -- will be mainly TV, with a limited magazine buy and a four-page ad in national newspapers the week of Nov. 23.

The effort also includes a series of customer-loyalty direct mailings to about 150,000 current Town Car owners to inform them of a major styling redesign and engineering changes to the luxury sedan.

The Lincoln-Mercury Division's 1998 ad budget isn't finalized yet, but media plans for the Town Car call for additional cable TV and print, said Ian Beavis, marketing communications manager. He declined to discuss specifics of next year's proposed ad spending.


The Town Car, Lincoln's best-selling model, probably will end up with a $25 million to $30 million media budget next year. The car got $28 million in media support for the first half of 1997 and $29.3 million for all of 1996, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Y&R Advertising, Detroit, created two spots, mirrored in the newspaper ad. One alternates scenes of people in a Town Car with shots of a accountant trying to answer the question "Is it travel or entertainment?" The other spot shows dressed-up couples getting a rugged ride in a vintage steam engine being outpaced by a Town Car. The sedan is driven by a woman; the suited male passenger sips coffee and reads the paper.

Mr. Beavis said Lincoln doesn't focus on Cadillac as the prime competitor for the Town Car, explaining, "We're competing against everybody."

Instead, Town Car wants to attract a slightly younger consumer, though "younger" is a relative term when it comes to the luxury car. The average age of a current Town Car owner is in the mid-60s.

"We are going after younger people, but more like people in their early 60s and late 50s," Mr. Beavis said.

Both strategies are surprising to auto consultant James Hall, who said the new Town Car "probably could successfully snare people in their mid-50s." Cadillac is indeed Town Car's primary competitor, added Mr. Hall, VP-industry analysis at AutoPacific.

Lincoln sold 75,509 Town Cars during the first 10 months of 1997, a 4% drop from the same period last year, according to Automotive News. Lincoln announced in

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