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Matthew McConaughey’s latest commercial in his sponsorship with Lincoln Motors probably won’t inspire the celebrity parodies that greeted the campaign when it launched in 2014, but it is still a study in willful weirdness.
Directed by J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) — a former commercial director turned filmmaker like Gus Van Sant, who directed McConaughey in some of the campaign’s previous spots — “Midnight” opens to McConaughey staring pensively into a swimming pool before leaping backward. Just as he hits the water, the commercial shifts to the Oscar-winning actor driving through a rainstorm in Lincoln’s revamped 2017 MKZ sedan. The commercial ends with the tag: “It’s Like That.”
Like what, exactly?
“Matthew is the glue across the Lincoln brand — he brings a certain attitude and allure,” Jon Pearce, chief creative officer of Hudson Rouge, Lincoln’s ad agency, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “The new MKZ will have a 400-horsepower engine, so this campaign is meant to convey something more visceral.”
Part of the strange appeal of the earlier Lincoln spots — and the source of parodies by everyone from Ellen DeGeneres to SNL — was McConaughey’s mumbled aphorisms (“Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward”) that seemed to channel Rust Cohle, his laconic character from HBO’s True Detective. In the current campaign McConaughey does not speak at all, though his mannerisms speak just as loudly, says John Emmert, Lincoln’s marketing chief.
“What you’re trying to bring out is the feeling of exhilaration” generated by driving the newly hopped-up MKZ, Emmert says, adding that McConaughey did speak lines in earlier takes of “Midnight” but ultimately the ad seemed more convincing without them. “Sometimes you can get it in just one weird facial expression — Matthew is so good with body language.”
Tapping filmmakers like Chandor, Van Sant and Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed the original spots in the campaign, gives the ads a movie-like gravitas, says Pearce.
“We went to film directors to tell a story and evoke a mood that didn’t feel like a commercial,” he says. “There’s something you get in the texture.”
While Chandor is “not an obvious choice,” to direct a car commercial, Pearce adds, the director’s work with Robert Redford in All Is Lost parallels the dialogue-free “Midnight” spot. “To convey that in a feature with that caliber of actor — barely a word is spoken. If you look at this, it has similarities.”
McConaughey will appear in two subsequent spots promoting the new MKZ — one consists almost entirely of the actor getting shaved with a straight razor — part of a $5 billion relaunch of Lincoln that has transformed the brand from a wheezing also-ran into a contender. U.S. sales are up 25 percent since 2013 while sales of Lincoln’s MKC and MKX SUVs, both launched with McConaughey-starring ads, are surging, with registrations among women last year increasing by close to 50 percent for both models.
Emmert would not confirm whether or not McConaughey would appear in the ads for the relaunch of Lincoln’s Continental later this year.
“We are working through our plans for the future,” Emmert says. “Our relationship with Matthew is very strong.”
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