Game Day for Lincoln Reboot

The automaker places its bet on a few amateurs in a socially driven Super Bowl spot

Lincoln Motor Co. today will wrap the shoot for its first Super Bowl spot, a 60-second, road trip-themed journey that wends its way through Southern California’s San Fernando Valley.

The stars of the commercial are extras—but not of the struggling-actor variety.

Lincoln cast a handful of actual Twitter users in bit roles as part of a social media-driven tactic the Ford Motor Co.-owned luxury nameplate hopes will jump-start sputtering sales and pave the way for a championship-size comeback.

Their tweets, the result of a crowdsourcing effort called #SteerTheScript, shaped the ad’s creative. The amateur thespians’ role in the multimillion-dollar spot “reflects the brand’s regard for the individual,” said Jon Pearce, chief creative officer at Hudson Rouge, the bespoke ad agency launched last month by WPP’s Team Detroit and Ford. “Appearing in the commercial wasn’t a carrot on the stick for them—they were tweeting for fun.”

To be clear, the spot will include professional actors, too. Lincoln was tight-lipped about other details. The big question remains whether the marketing push will result in a much-needed boost for the brand.

Lincoln’s sales declined 4 percent in 2012 versus 2011 and last month alone plummeted 12 percent. The industry will be watching closely to see whether Lincoln’s Super Bowl play helps reroute its fortunes.

“The risk is that Lincoln possibly doesn’t maximize the opportunity with great creative and a follow-on message that gets the brand the lift it needs,” said David Cooperstein, a TV marketing analyst at Forrester Research. “That means finding ways to engage with the brand after the game is done.”

Rival Audi’s Super Bowl spot last year scored a potent afterlife, snagging an additional 4 million views on YouTube in the two weeks following the big game. The same commercial ended up accruing 8 million views by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Audi has enjoyed a spike in sales for each of the last two years.

None of that is lost on Lincoln. To create buzz around the Feb. 3 game, its media blitz will include Promoted Tweets, reach-block Facebook ads, banners on Yahoo and mobile promos on Millennial’s network. To encourage as much earned-media hype as possible, Lincoln will seed videos—including, in the days leading up to the game, the Super Bowl spot itself—across various social sites.

It will also tease the tweets used in the ad, as well as storyboards and behind-the-scenes photos from the production.

Pearce clearly has high expectations, calling the Super Bowl push a “huge” ingredient toward getting Lincoln back on track in 2013.

“We are putting a lot of passion, work hours and investment in it,” he said. “The idea we’ve come up with will get a lot of traction in the before, during and after space.”