NICK BUNKLEY

Lincoln's Super Bowl sign of the 'alpacalypse'

Automotive News | February 1, 2013 - 10:13 am EST
UPDATED: 2/1/13 4:35 pm ET - adds quotes from Matt VanDyke
Nick Bunkley is an enterprise reporter for Automotive News.
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Last year, General Motors ran a Super Bowl spot asserting that the Chevrolet Silverado is the only truck strong enough to survive an apocalypse.

Now, Ford Motor Co. is showing us what happens when its Lincoln MKZ encounters an "alpacalypse."

An alpacalypse, as millions of viewers will learn Sunday, is a peculiar event that occurs when you ask comedian Jimmy Fallon to make a Super Bowl commercial based on suggestions from Twitter. Fallon asked his followers to relay crazy road-trip experiences and got more than 6,000 responses, several of which were not obscene or offensive.

Then Ford, apparently unable to come up with a better idea in the meantime, filmed a commercial for the MKZ inspired by five tweets, including this one from "@karinarosewhite," a 17-year-old high-school senior: "We drove passed an alpaca farm, a few of them were meandering on the highway and my sister screamed, 'It's the Alpacalypse!'"

Lincoln's spot (see below or click here) also incorporates people's stories about turtles, a motorcycle gang, a spaceship and a German hitchhiker who was visiting Texas to study farming so he could return home and marry a farmer's daughter.

What does any of this have to do with Lincoln? Nothing, its executives admit.

Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln marketing, told Automotive News on Friday that the brand needed to take an unorthodox approach to "get Lincoln back on the radar."

"We feel like we do have to behave differently to get looked at, to get noticed," VanDyke said.

Lincoln embraced Twitter during the ad's creation to help make the brand feel "warm and human," he said. "We took calculated risk in not knowing exactly what we would get."

Asked if he is happy with how the ad turned out, VanDyke responded: "We're very happy with the amount of attention and the coverage and the amount Lincoln's been noticed since Dec. 3," when the campaign with Fallon began.

The plan originally called for one 60-second commercial during Sunday's game, but Lincoln executives ultimately decided to split that time into two spots: the alpaca-hitchhiker-spaceship thing and one that focuses on the actual, you know, car. The second one was conceived not by people on the Internet who've never been inside a Lincoln but by professional marketing people who get paid to do this sort of thing, which is a novel concept these days.

The company also changed its mind about putting Lincoln's new "brand ambassador," former NFL star Emmitt Smith, into the Super Bowl spots. Smith's voice has been relegated to an extended-cut version available only online.

Ford hopes its big-game spots for Lincoln will help get the brand on more people's shopping lists again, or at the very least remind people that Lincoln does still, in fact, exist. Lincoln aspires to one day get back into the same league as the dominant luxury players, such as BMW and Mercedes.

For its Super Bowl spot, Mercedes went a more traditional route: Hire a supermodel and show her in slow motion. A teaser video that Mercedes posted on YouTube starring Kate Upton in a black tank top got 5.7 million views in 10 days.

Ads and previews posted by Toyota, Audi and Volkswagen have been viewed more than 3 million times each.

In contrast, 21 videos posted by Lincoln about the making of its commercial have been viewed just 88,000 times.

Late Thursday, Lincoln posted a 90-second version of the final ad online -- and immediately began drawing ridicule.

It makes no sense at all," read one of the first comments posted. On Twitter, people labeled it "very, very weird," "all-over-the-place nonsense" and "the worst ad of the century."

"I am dismayed at the direction this relaunch is taking," Aaron Bragman, the Detroit bureau chief for Cars.com, told me in -- appropriately enough -- a direct message on Twitter. "The commercial is awful, confusing and nothing about it says luxury."

Give Lincoln credit for trying something different here, given that what it has done in recent years clearly hasn't worked. But the pregame reaction suggests that the first-ever Twitter-sourced Super Bowl ad is a disaster of alpacalyptic proportions.

Lincoln's spot incorporates people's stories about turtles, a motorcycle gang, a spaceship and a German hitchhiker who was visiting Texas to study farming so he could return home and marry a farmer's daughter.

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