6 June 2022

Brand spotlight: Lincoln

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Not many people embody American culture quite like Matthew McConaughey.

The Academy Award-winning actor is charming, humble, and reliable… a national treasure in the truest sense.

And that’s why, from 2014, he’s been the face of Lincoln vehicles – a car brand famed for its stridently American take on luxury.

2020 Lincoln Aviator Reserve in Infinite Black, front left

The partnership is unusually collaborative for a company of this size, and McConaughey frequently waxes lyrical about it in articles and interviews.

The man’s charisma is undeniable, and this underpins a series of commercials over recent years. The commercials are grounded in McConaughey’s personality – pensive and calculated, laid-back and impossibly cool; a modern Paul Newman.

In the latest edition of our Brand Spotlight series, we’ve explored the history of the now-iconic partnership, and how the company is using sound to position itself as a pioneering force in the automotive sector.

Initial success

The actor’s association with the Lincoln began with the release of The Lincoln Lawyer in 2011. It’s a legal thriller in which McConaughey plays a brilliant-yet-reclusive attorney who lives in his vehicle… which, yes, happens to be a Lincoln – specifically, a Town Car.

Former Lincoln global director, Matt VanDyke, described the decision to cast the Dallas Buyers Club star as due to his “warm, inviting and authentic” quality, which is mutually-held with the automobile maker. And the decision was a roaring success – following the first advert, Bull, traffic to the official website grew three-fold, and sales grew by 13% the following year.

This is a dream outcome following their 32-year record low just a few months prior. Outside of sales, the campaign left a huge cultural impact, resulting in parodies by programmes like SNL and South Park; directed by Nicolas Winding Refn (Bronson, Only God Forgives), and scored by Cliff Martinez (Drive), Bull was a huge project for the manufacturer.

The vast majority of the dialogue was ad-libbed, showing how the company is so assured by its choice of McConaughey as the voice of their brand, that they didn’t even need to give directions. Add Cliff Martinez’s atmospheric, engulfing musical foundation, and you’re left with an astonishing feat – one that remains incredibly cinematic, even with the viewer’s eyes closed.

McConaughey’s image and smooth, Texan drawl certainly have enormous popular appeal (he was even enlisted by sleep-and-meditation app Calm to narrate their users into a state of ease), but the sheer size and diversity of audiences across the US mean it can be dangerous to hang your hat too strongly on a regional accent like his. We believe it’s one of the reasons Lincoln added tennis legend Serena Williams as an additional spokesperson in 2017.

Different voices appeal to different people

Williams is drastically different to McConaughey in almost every way – from a different generation, of different heritage, female (obviously) and from a different part of the country. And although their fanbases will overlap (the excellence of both is undeniable), Serena’s presence helps Lincoln break free from a narrow definition of American-ness.

It’s about values – McConaughey representing timelessness, Williams representing excellence. As the greatest women’s player of all time, she was a natural choice.

As humans, we’re hard-wired to identify more with people who share similar traits; by introducing a second celebrity spokesperson, Lincoln are ensuring they’re appealing to as wide an audience as possible.

In fact, they’ve cast the net even wider with their Feel the Joy short film, a piece developed by leading agency Hudson Rouge. It features a child communicating solely in American Sign Language.

Positioning Lincoln through sound

Branding these days isn’t just about selling your product. Sometimes it’s about positioning; it’s for this reason that Lincoln created The Nautilus.

This light-and-sound-based public art installation, which was situated in the Seaport district of New York City, was developed to give participants an immersive experience that is thought-provoking, innovative, individual and powered by great technology – all qualities that Lincoln wants to be thought of as having.

At other points, it’s about demonstrating how you understand your customers’ problems.

Like many city dwellers, some New Yorkers are so accustomed to the din of the city that they struggle to sleep in total silence; Lincoln’s response to this is The City that Sleeps, a 2019 project inspired by the famous saying about the city.

Working with musician Anders Rhedin, Lincoln captured ambient noises to create an eight-hour album of ‘white noise’, all designed to help the Big Apple’s residents get some shut-eye.

Investing in quality

Lincoln clearly understands the value of sound. Modern cars’ plethora of sensors, cameras and other technology bring with them a seemingly endless selection of chimes, bongs and other noises.

In recognition of the impact sound can have on perceived quality, Lincoln tasked the Detroit Symphony Orchestra to record a suite of them for the new 2019 Aviator.

Opting for a live recording using real instruments, rather than synthetic, studio-made sounds, reinforces Lincoln’s commitment to quality. Their choice of orchestra wasn’t accidental either; instead, it’s a nod to its heritage.

Detroit is the original home of General Motors and Lincoln’s parent company, Ford, and has become shorthand for the American motor industry at large, which won’t have gone unnoticed by automotive enthusiasts.

In summary

In a luxury car market often dominated and defined European manufacturers, Lincoln has created a lane of its own. Rather than try to mimic the competition, they’ve leaned into what makes them unique and special – their American heritage – and have cleverly used audio to cultivate a sense of ease and quality that extends far beyond in-car settings.

And by emphasizing hush (as in the clip featuring Serena Williams above), they’re redefining how audio forms part of the automotive experience. Company president Jay Falotico’s reference to the “serene quietness [their] clients expect from a Lincoln” in a recent press release is just one way in which the brand is setting themselves up for a future in which ‘the purr of the engine’ is replaced by silent-running electric cars.

Now, The Lincoln Lawyer has been adapted into a TV series that’s debuted on Netflix in May 2022 (albeit, sadly not starring Matthew McConaughey in the lead role), and the company is sure to be in the public eye once again.

That, as Mr McConaughey would say… is alright, alright, alright.


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