DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is cutting back on national advertising for the Mercury brand and asking Lincoln Mercury dealers to assume more marketing responsibility.
Ford is diverting more money to Lincoln Mercury's dealer advertising groups to help, said Bob Tasca Jr., outgoing chairman of the Lincoln Mercury national dealer council.
"They're taking care of Lincoln, and they've funded the LMDAs (Lincoln Mercury Dealer Associations) to take care of Mercury," said Tasca, president of Tasca Automotive Group in Cranston, R.I. "Ford asked the dealers to do more."
Ford has been discussing the shift with Lincoln Mercury dealers throughout 2007, Ford spokesman Jim Cain said. Ford wants to make the most of its Tier 1, or national, ads.
"Tier 1 is the most expensive media that you have, and it's very good at brand building," Cain said. "And since our priority is to grow Lincoln, and Lincoln is a brand that's adding new nameplates and really carving out its own unique identity, we've been intending to focus more there."
Ford will phase in the transition.
Mercury's advertising focus will be on Tier 2, or dealer-supported regional ad campaigns designed to drive showroom traffic, he said. Mercury ads typically feature the brand's spokeswoman, actress Jill Wagner, talking up features of vehicles such as the Milan sedan or Mariner crossover.
Handing off more responsibility for Mercury marketing is another sign that the brand faces possible extinction. Product analysts, suppliers and dealers already say there is little in Mercury's product pipeline after an updated Milan goes on sale in 2008.
The future of Mercury is the biggest concern that Lincoln Mercury dealers have, Tasca said. The dealer council expects Ford to provide more clarity on Mercury's fate next year, he said.
For now, dealers are willing to pitch in to keep Mercury ads in front of consumers. Said Tasca: "We've got to keep Jill on TV, right?"