Posted by: David Kiley on February 13, 2006
First, I apologize for being away from the blog for a week. The &^%$#@ VPN connection fro my laptop was fertitzed, and it made updates impossible. I was at The Chicago Auto Show, shmoozing auto execs, warding off the cold and taking in the unwrapping of the Toyota Tundra.
But let me say something about Lincoln. This is, of course, Ford Motor Co.’s “American” luxury brand, not to be be confused with its Swedish brand, Volvo, and its Brit brands—Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston Martin. Ford is trying a resuscitation job on Lincoln through an investment in new products that have been sorely lacking for years. Ford has made it clear, though, in the last month that it thinks so much of the Lincoln brand that it is going to reduce all but the Town Car to alpha-numeric names, including dumping the Zephyr name for the small sedan it launched only last year. The Zephyr will now be called the MKZ. Rolls right off your tongue. If you had asked me to come up with the lamest marketing idea in Dearborn, MI this year, I couldn’t have made this up.
The rest of the alphas include the ditching of the Aviator name in favor of MKX, and the naming of a forthcoming flagship sedan the MKS. These models have already been confused by auto writers as I searched the Internet for a photo of the MKS (above).
The logic of all this is to play off the history of the Lincoln Mark Series, which currently doesn’t have an entry in Lincoln showrooms.
Clearly, Ford execs were inspired to make this move by the runaway success of the Lincoln LS. NOT!!!!!!The LS, a darn good car to drive, was orphaned by Ford’s marketing deapartment and was never the player it should have been in the luxury car market.
Here is the playbook on why a car company goes to alpha-numeric names instead of real names:
1. Marketer du jour believe that too much money is being spent supporting individual model names and not enough on brand. Bright, ambitious execs figure that by reducing names to code, everyone will just think and remember Lincoln, Lincoln, Lincoln. Ford’s affiliated company, Mazda, did this with Mazda3, Madzda5, Madzda6, MPV, MX-5 Miata (it wisely won’t ditch the Miata name though it would like to) and RX-8. Memo-Mark Fields, former head of Mazda, is now calling the marketing shots at Ford.
2. BMW and Mercedes long ago made alpha-numeric names popular and aspirational. And this prompted Lexus, Acura, Infiniti to follow suit. That’s why we have Lexus LS430, Acura RL and Infiniti M45.
I asked a Ford exec what happens in a year when people have zero recognition of these names. “Then we’ll change it again,” he said only half kidding. I wouldn’t be surprised.