"We have to get noticed," said Matt VanDyke, director of global Lincoln marketing. "The Super Bowl is as massive as you can get, and we need to make sure people know Lincoln is not what they thought it is."
The last time Ford ran a Super Bowl ad was in 2006, when Kermit the Frog croaked the praises of the Ford Escape hybrid. That was the year Ford lost a record $12.6 billion. It was also the year the football game was played at Ford Field in Detroit, in a game lost by the Seattle Seahawks.
A year later, the Dearborn, Mich., automaker was promising to rejuvenate the Lincoln brand, but resources were limited. The number of skeptics has grown with each subsequent year that Lincoln has failed to introduce unique products to emerge from the Blue Oval's shadow.
"The serious start to Lincoln is now, not six years ago when they said it was," said analyst Jim Hall of 2953 Analytics.
Spending $8 million for a 60-second commercial in next year's Super Bowl gives Lincoln a stage it can't get anywhere else, said Mike Bernacchi, marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy. "This shows their commitment. There is no bigger marketing muscle."
Just ask Chrysler, which has turned Super Bowl advertising into an art form.
On the luxury side, Audi gained credibility with a 2008 ad that spoofed "The Godfather" with a grille in a bed.
"The Super Bowl is about selling perception," Hall said. "Lincoln is doing things luxury brands do."
Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Lexus are expected to advertise in the Feb. 3 game in New Orleans. Cadillac will not.
Ford global marketing chief Jim Farley chose not to buy time during the big game in past years as the automaker shifted more of its marketing thrust into social media.
Farley has changed his mind when it comes to Lincoln, VanDyke said. "We convinced him if we do it in a unique way, it can be very valuable."
The deal with late-night talk-show host Fallon was announced Monday by Farley and Ford CEO Alan Mulally at an event in New York's Lincoln Center Plaza to announce a new advertising campaign: "Introducing the Lincoln Motor Co."
Ford is taking its luxury brand back to its roots and original name: Lincoln Motor Co. and a new advertising campaign touting its heritage.
The name change is for marketing only -- dealers don't need new signs; the legal entity is unchanged. The symbolic goal is to differentiate Lincoln from the Ford brand. Lincoln debuts in China in 2014.
"Today we are announcing a new beginning for a brand that has been part of our company and the American fabric more than 90 years," Mulally said. "The new Lincoln brand will be defined by great new luxury vehicles, such as the new MKZ."
The print, broadcast and digital campaign is enormous in scope, VanDyke said. "In the next 100 days, we will be everywhere."
He did not disclose how much Lincoln is spending.
The first ads debuted Monday and featured images of Abraham Lincoln, after whom the company was named when it was founded by Henry Leland in August 1915.
Fallon will write the Super Bowl ad via social media after gathering tweets about Lincoln from consumers, starting at noon Wednesday. Details will be posted to Lincoln.com on Wednesday morning.
Fallon will take the material and use writing skills honed in his days at "Saturday Night Live" to write the 60-second ad. He may or may not appear in the ad.
"We needed someone with improvisational, creative comedy skills, and who has an audience and is active in social media," VanDyke said.
"With all the actions we have planned, we can't be quiet," VanDyke said. "We have to go big."
Everything is kicking off now in advance of the sale of the new 2013 Lincoln MKZ later this month, the first of four new Lincolns coming over four years in an effort to take Lincoln into a successful and distinct era again after the once-successful brand was allowed to languish.
- The Buzz: Carmageddon 12/5/12