Ford announced it was finally scuttling the Mercury “brand” today and all I can say is that I am not surprised.
Ford executives, the automotive press, and bloggers will all lament at this loss and attribute it to things like a “weak economy,” “industry consolidation,” and “focus on the core brand.” While I have no doubt those things attributed to the demise of Mercury, what ultimately killed Mercury was a complete lack of emotionally resonate brand meaning.
Mercury has not been run as its own brand for years. It was always the “less than average stepchild” of Ford. At least for a decade, by and large, Mercury models were nothing more than Fords with different fenders. They were primarily sold at dealerships who also sold Lincolns. The brand model was designed for people who could not quite afford a Lincoln, but wanted a step up from a Ford.
But the major problem was that Ford, like the rest of Detroit, thought it was more important to move more metal than concentrate on building a brand. Ford looked for ways to further segment its market rather than build a emotionally resonate connection with that market.
Ford, GM, Chrysler and the vast majority of their “sub-branded” models are not true brands. They are simply names with heritage (and that may be a bit of a stretch). American automobile manufacturers, in particularly, have never placed the emphasis on brand they should have, unlike some of their overseas counterparts. Mercury and those it employed are casualties of that lack of emphasis on brand.
Themes like “American” can be claimed by other competitors. Quality, safety, reliability, fuel efficiency and other product characteristics cannot be owned by anyone. They should be owned by everyone. Producing quality cars that are safe and reliable and are efficient is the basic requirements to be a car company, aren’t they?
Now, with a rapidly dwindling stable of models, it is more important than ever for car companies to focus on their brands (and this does not mean restating a listing of product characteristics) and I think that they need to look outside of their “good ‘ole boy” network to help them with that focus. The car business has, for far too long, been dominated by people who think they know more than their consumers about what their consumers actually want. I only hope that this view does not cause another model to be eliminated before the car manufacturers come to their senses.