Mercury Latest To Launch Net Films

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Ford’s Mercury division on Monday debuted a series of Internet films around a central theme, "Meet The Lucky Ones." There is only scant connection to Mercury vehicles, at least in the first of four sets of films, but that’s okay whether dealers get the value of the effort or not.

From and Mercury’s own Web site, people are directed to //, which takes them to the Mercury Web site where they are greeted with information about a sweepstakes that will award a new Mercury Mariner. That winner, of course, will be a "lucky one." And that is really the only connection to Mercury vehicles, save a Mariner being incidentally placed in one of the ten films. No kidding.

The opening introductory teaser film is a bit off-putting. It’s artsy and confusing, backed up by a droning, but not unpleasant, original soundtrack. The teaser film, which can be skipped in order to go to the ten films, introduces ten characters whose lives are intertwined, though each gets his or her own film, which can be clicked on after the intro film screen goes away. In the coming four weeks, a new set of films will be introduced. I recommend watching the films in order.

Alice is introduced, for example, against the image of a shaking vibrating washing machine that is out of balance, spewing water over its brim onto the floor. Each film lasts about 30 seconds, and is narrated by the voice of a young adolescent boy. Alice runs into the frame at the end to shut the washer off, while the narrator explains that Alice and Frank are out of balance. "That’s what happens when one person does all the dancing. It may be time to dance with somebody else." Alan is a man waiting in a dentist’s office for his appointment as he pages through examples of newly capped and whitened teeth of other patients of the dentist’s. The voiceover: "…If Alan is going to find a way out of this place…if he is going to find a woman to help him…he’ll need a new smile." Eight more character introductions follow. Taken together, the films have a Robert Altman quality. Think of his film Nashville. To describe each one here would do the films a disservice. It’s worth watching at the Web site.

Mercury, through ad agency Wunderman Detroit, went to creator Kirt Gunn who reeled in top-drawer indie film talent: Director, Derek Cianfrance - 2003 Sundance Film Festival Award Winner for Best Cinematography, Quattro Noza; Executive Producers Jon Kamen and Greg Schultz of @radical media - Producer of the 2004 Academy Award Winner for Best Documentary Feature, Fog of War and of Fade to Black; Writer, Ed Herbstman - Da Ali G Show, Creative Consultants, Mother New York, and Musical Composer, Stephin Merritt - The Magnetic Fields.

The project, which doesn’t hit the consumer over the head with a sales message, is very unlike Ford Motor Co., and especially unlike Mercury, a brand mired in confusion and disarray for three decades. What good are Net films? Smart marketers are finding that Net films, if done well, can engage customers and potential customers in ways that TV, print, and radio can’t. Consumers are exterminating TV ads, which have to pack tedious sales information into a 30-second format, via TiVo or the simple remote. When Net films are good, people seek them out, stay engaged (for more than five minutes in this case), tell their friends and even forward the link and information. BMW’s net films, considered the standard, easily reached more than 65 million people.

You have heard of "Appointment TV"? Consider Mercury’s // "Appointment Advertising" as the stories roll out in the next few weeks. This could be the first real example of Ford achieving "pull" advertising in my memory. That means consumers actually seek out the ads, which completely blur the lines between advertising and compelling content, instead of having the usual ad-gruel flung at them in their living rooms or in the airport lounge.

It is ironic that Jaguar, a British sister brand of Mercury and handled by the same ad agency as Mercury, Young & Rubicam (Wunderman is a unit of Y&R), launched a completely forgettable Net film effort just last month. Whereas Jaguar should be supported by an artier, cooler set of films than Mercury, it could and should be argued, it is not the case. The Jag films are no more than vignettes of people whose dreary lives are transformed into an anime animated world after seeing a Jaguar. The series of films, viewable at //, were less interesting than most TV ads. But from Mercury (who’d have thought?) comes a series of films that may challenge BMW films as the new standard in the genre.

A Mercury ad that promotes the sweepstakes and the films is placed this week over the "In the News" summary on on the day before Election Day and on Election Day. That takes care of traffic. What the films try to do is start to change the perception of Mercury as a brand hardly worth caring about, especially among car shoppers under age 40. "The project will be backed by a significant online campaign aimed at generating millions of impressions and driving traffic to the ‘Meet The Lucky Ones’ site," said John Fitzpatrick, Lincoln Mercury general marketing manager. "We have dedicated nearly 25 percent of the New Doors Opened [Mercury’s recently launched campaign theme] total marketing communications budget to digital and customer relationship events, which is a substantial commitment when compared to prior launches."

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