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When it comes to image-building TV commercials, don't expect to see much of cars like the Oldsmobile Ciera or the Mercury Grand Marquis in the 1996 model year.

Olds and Mercury are aspiring to younger, more educated consumers, so both General Motors Corp.'s Oldsmobile and Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln-Mercury Division are planning to put forward their freshest model faces.

"It's an unusual situation, because we have a handful of products that represent where we want to go with our image, and others that don't," said Steve Shannon, Olds general marketing manager.

Oldsmobile began retooling its image a year ago by bringing out the Aurora, a $32,000 performance sedan that has made inroads with buyers who typically prefer luxury imports. Starting in early October, Oldsmobile will also heavily feature the LSS, formerly a performance-oriented version of the Eighty Eight sedan and now a stand-alone model.

Two LSS commercials breaking early next month from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, use unusual tests against an agile cheetah and a fast-working Japanese chef to demonstrate the car's nimble handling and performance.

While the bulk of Oldsmobile's $150 million ad budget backs those image leaders, it will be left mostly to dealers and regional dealer ad groups to advertise models like the Ciera and the full-size Ninety Eight.

For Mercury, introduction of the redesigned 1996 Sable is fueling an image makeover as well as a boost in ad spending to an estimated $175 million, 10% above 1995 model year spending.

Themed "Imagine yourself in a Mercury," the new campaign from Young & Rubicam, Detroit, makes its debut Sept. 11 with a brand spot that focuses on the Mystique compact sedan and Villager minivan, with a sneak peek at the midsize Sable sedan. The full Sable campaign breaks Sept. 25.

The campaign is intended to "challenge consumers to think about Mercury in a new way," said Keith Magee, VP-general manager of Lincoln-Mercury.

Sable is particularly key because it's both the sales and image leader for Mercury. Mr. Magee said the redesigned Sable's expressive styling should help attract younger, more upscale buyers to the brand.

Mercury's total spending on cable TV will triple during the '96 model year, to an estimated $15 million.

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