Mercury’s long, strange road is coming to its final destination and will rest in peace with other brands like its short-lived sibling Edsel, Chrysler’s Plymouth and Eagle, along with GM’s Oakland, Oldsmobile, Pontiac, Saturn and Hummer. Ford Motor Co. finally pulled the plug officially, saying it will stop production on the brand’s products at year’s end.
The heyday for Mercury, which first arrived on the scene in fall 1938 as a ’39 model, is long past. Insiders at Ford and outsiders have debated its future for decades. Mercury was a place for officials to get their tickets punched and move onto the bigger Ford Division.
Mercury models have long been similar, but spiffier versions of their Ford sibling. Think Bobcat (Ford Pinto); Capri (Mustang); Sable (Taurus); Tracer (Escort) Mountaineer (Explorer); Mariner (Escape) yadda, yadda yadda.
No wonder it was so hard to figure out exactly what the brand’s positioning and differentiators were. And when you can’t do that, how in the world can you clearly create messages to convey the core of the brand?
Mercury shifted ad themes too often. It confused people. Mercury changed targets from mainly men to more recently primarily women, but the audience has flip flopped several times over the decades. The brand’s core positioning changed, depending on who was running the division and which new products were coming. Let’s face it, the brand had an identity crisis.
The demise of a long-standing, well-known car brand is a big deal, so what better time for a retrospective of Mercury ads and agencies.
Here’s how it all started, ad-wise from N.W. Ayer & Son, for the first Merc
Readers of a certain age will recall Cougar commercials with a real live big cat and ones like this 1975 spot that built viz and an acting career for Farrah Fawcett
Here’s another one for Cougar from 1980
A personal favorite was the “Imagine TV” campaign that arrived in fall 1997 from Y&R, under the baton of Ian Beavis, then ad manager of Lincoln-Mercury. All seven commercials were edgy vignettes that appeared to be airing on a fictional network. At least it broke through the clutter of some of the other sleep-inducing auto ads at the time.
The effort extended the marketer’s two-year-old “Imagine Yourself in a Mercury” theme. Problem was not enough buyers were doing that.
Mercury shifted gears again in fall ’99 with “Live Life in Your Own Lane.” That’s one of those tag lines that you could apply to lots of car brands, so nothing special there.
“New Doors Opened” broke in fall 2004 as the new tag-with music created by Grammy winning artists’ Paula Cole and Don Was. The thinking, according to the press materials at the time” was the campaign would “feature the vitality of the Mercury brand woven into the everyday discoveries of modern life.” Huh?
Mercury tried several weird, online webisode gambits. Also in the fall of 2004, it debuted “Meet the Lucky Ones,” exploring the bizarre, connected lives of 10 people. Tedious as it was, Mercury said it drove traffic to mercuryvehicles.com by 400%.
Then came the bizarro, what-were-they-thinking TheNeverything.com webisodes about two brothers living like children on a houseboat in the middle of a field.
The “new doors” closed in 2006, when aspiring, young actress Jill Wagner was tapped to appear in ads telling viewers “You’ve got to put Mercury on your list.”
But in 2007, Ford slashed national ad spending for Mercury, letting the regional dealer groups
carry the ball.
In mythology the god Mercury was among the most favorite of the ancient deities. Too bad the car brand didn’t have the same popularity as the wing-footed god.