Deborah Wahl, given high marks for her image makeover of the Mazda Protege, takes over national advertising for Lincoln Mercury with two major ad campaigns on tap and two brand identities to remake.
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. Beavis moved to Bozell Worldwide of San Mateo, Calif., as global account director.
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.
The campaign, from Y&R Advertising in 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 in moving the brand away from dependence on large sedans.
With the LS, Lincoln will introduce the tag line 'American luxury,' which will try to differentiate the car from imports such as Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and BMW.
Following the LS, 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. Wahl envisions recasting Mer-cury as 'forward-thinking, expressive, individualistic.'
Mercury has had difficulty forging a strong identity, in part because the brand has offered mainly rebadged Ford vehicles. Mercury sales fell 6.3 percent in 1998 to 410,186.
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 Wahl, who worked closely with ad agency Doner of Southfield, Mich., to build a more spirited, stylish identity around the 'Get in. Be moved.' tag line.
Tim Blett, president for automotive at Doner, said 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.