My favourite ad campaign of all time: Lincoln featuring Matthew McConaughey

While the Lincoln ads at the time were derided by media and marketers alike when first launched in 2014, they produced a bounce in sales and endless parody versions that just kept the conversation going – writes Grey Singapore’s Haniah Omar

In 2014, American car brand Lincoln launched a series of ads featuring Matthew McConaughey. It became possibly the most ridiculed campaign in recent advertising history.

But that doesn’t matter – because it increased Lincoln’s sales by 25% in a month and has become one of their best assets as they fight to win sales in a famously competitive industry.

The lesson was that it is the result for the client that matters.

The only thing an advertisement needs to do is make the viewer do something. And people do things because of how they feel.

Each successful ad has a formula for why it has moved people to act in a specific way. The formula for this one has just two parts. First, the ad makes the target customer feel that a Lincoln driver is a winner at life. Second, uncertainty about whether it makes logical sense combined with the celebrity casting catches people’s attention and also makes it popular to comment on, share and parody.

Making the Lincoln driver into someone that has won at life was the aim. He is confident and lives life at his own pace now. He has wealth, wisdom and inner peace. This film lends the viewer that feeling for the duration of the ad. You feel calm, not in any hurry because you simply don’t need to be

I’ve picked one ad in the series to dissect how this feeling was created. They casted well in selecting McConaughey – who already brings a sense of self-assurance and success through his own celebrity brand. Shooting this in Iceland created the backdrop of an elegant, peaceful, exclusive section of the world that is inaccessible to the normal person.

Oscar-winning cinematographer Wally Pfister created unexpected, meditative shots in the anamorphic film format that he is famous for. Wardrobe looks expensive, but is made to feel as if it is subject to the driver’s rules – not that of working society – so he is kept unshaven.

The voice over is calm, slow and again by and for the driver – not for others – which is why it is ok that it does not make complete sense to the viewer. The colour palette and music maintain a feel of calm and reduce the speed at which the viewer is operating. The colours are cool, but skin tones stay true.

The music has a beautifully slow but strongly enforced tempo. Once the viewer has been brought to a slower state, there is a period of complete silence in which you just hear McConaughey move and get comfortable in his seat. The films are edited in sharp fast cuts that are smooth but non-even and non-linear.

This is the way to catch attention and parody through logical incompleteness. During and after watching the ads, viewers do not fully understand what happened. Adding an A-List celebrity, in the form of McConaughey, gives it enough importance to spend time on.

The first effect is that this catches people’s attention – improving impact on each unit of media purchased. The second impact is that it becomes something that is easy for people to talk about, share and comment on – as humans, I think we are made to spot things that fall out of normal patterns and alert others to them.

Linked to this, the third result was that it became a great opportunity for parody – you can watch some parodies by Ellen here, by Jim Carey on SNL here and by South Park here. The tens of millions of views that came from these acted as a free multiplier for the client on their media spend.

The strangeness and potential for ridicule was very careful. It was not to be linked in any way to the car in itself or the key feeling that the Lincoln driver had won at life. This is an example of why, to produce the best work for our clients, we need to think back to the first principles.

Lincoln has continued running these ads since 2014 and shows no sign of stopping. Good for them.

Haniah Omar is associate creative director of art at Grey Group Singapore


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