Big Chill Boy
The Lincoln car company has gone to great lengths in their latest ad campaigns to sell you; not their wares as much as the lifestyle that accompanies them. This advertisement entitled: ‘The Winning Hand’, features academy award winning actor, Matthew McConaughey looking smooth as hell. Lincoln has been using him as their pitch man for four years now. The television commercial begins with a velvety jazz trumpet as McConaughey, viewing himself in a half-length mirror dapperly attired, adjusts his cufflinks on a crisp white shirt covered by a blue blazer. He is slight in build but masculine, with Hollywood good looks to boot. Walking out of an exquisitely furnished multi-million-dollar hacienda, McConaughey sweeps up a key-fob from fine wood stand that opens the driver door to his Lincoln MKX sports utility vehicle. Smooth photography and clean visuals already have the viewer’s attention in the first fifteen seconds of the commercial. As the engine purrs to life a self-satisfied almost secretive grin lights up his face, the camera pans out showing his lavish estate. He is taking us somewhere. These ads are ubiquitous. They are featured at all times and hours on all types of programming. The intended audience is the middle class of America. Anyone and everyone who can afford to either lease or buy this luxury vehicle. The strategy of using Mr. ‘Alright, Alright, Alright’ himself is extremely clever. Matthew McConaughey is the epitome of handsome, laid-back, confident, serious, spiritual and just goddamn cool. Lincoln is not just trying to persuade you to buy their vehicle but selling you an entire lifestyle and an attitude that could be yours for around 54 thousand dollars.
The emotional appeal the producers of this commercial are going for is subtle but unmistakable. This same appeal overrides the logic of spending excessive amounts of money on a sports utility vehicle. In just two minutes forty-five seconds, the run length of the ad, the feeling of confident tranquility permeates the screen. Jumping back and forth from clean barren streets to an after-hours party he has yet to arrive to, McConaughey drives, steering with his left hand while the other gently taps trumpet keys in the air to accompany the soulful music playing in the background. Class, distinction and status is what the viewer is being persuaded to buy here. “Social status is not just about the cars we drive, the money we make or the schools we attend-it is also about how we feel, think and act”, (DeAngelis). The idea that a better car or wardrobe can make you a more important or better person is pervasive to American culture. In her article, Class Differences, author Tori DeAngelis begins to explore the psychology of class and some of its implications, such as an increasing gulf between the rich and poor. A high negative potential rests in this gap, including health, well-being, self-image, relationships, stereotyping and prejudice. Class stratification has an effect on everyone’s life today. The habits and attitudes of the more affluent can sometimes be seen as callous and uncaring by many. The implications of showing the rarified air present in this commercial may not at first be obvious, but the feeling of an exclusivity that accompanies the lifestyle being portrayed is undeniable.
Lifestyle branding can be defined as a product or service that provides consumers with an emotional attachment to an identifiable lifestyle-the rugged outdoors man, the posh executive or an urban hipster, for example (Jung). “Companies strive for lifestyle branding because they can reap financial benefits by building and sustaining a strong, emotional and long-term bond with the consumer. High profit margins is just one reason for a company to become a lifestyle brand”, [Jung]. The strength of a brand that a consumer has an emotional attachment to makes it easier to launch new products at a cheaper cost. There are typically three distinctive ‘levels’ of lifestyle branding. First there is the functional benefit, then the emotional benefit and at the pinnacle rests self-expression. The latter of these is where any product wishes to find itself. The purchase of a product that embodies how the consumer see’s themselves or wishes to be seen. Lincoln is saying we have it, and we know you want it!
With coaxing music playing in the back ground we, the viewer, are being delivered to an intimate party, the same one McConaughey is arriving to. Another beautiful home with eclectic furnishings and tasteful wares are being perused by a slender delicate hand belonging to an equally beautiful woman. Not half way through this ad the overwhelming wave of refinement and prestige envelope us. There is a compliment of attractive people here, a seemingly European looking female, and two equally handsome men in formal attire, one with his bow tie undone. The formal engagement must have already concluded, this is definitely an after-hours party. Now the viewer knows this must be a private affair. This is not about the car, far from it, this advertisement is about belonging, inclusiveness, exclusivity and most importantly, beauty.
How do connectedness and beauty interact with one another? According to (Plaut, et.al.), “people will go to such great lengths (and sometimes endanger themselves) to increase attractiveness. In short, attractive people experience better social and psychological outcomes than unattractive people.” “Research also suggests that attractiveness enhances social connectedness such that attractive people experience more popularity and social interaction and less loneliness than less attractive people do.” There is an undeniable tether between beauty, symmetry, health and procreation. It is genetically embedded in our genes. Symmetry rests closer to perfection which lies closer to our health and reproduction. From a female perspective these ideas of sex and perfection may fall hand in hand with the authors intention by using Matthew McConaughey in this ad. If that is not enough, Lincoln will play on our desire to be one of those in the know, with the in-set, with the cool ones. Who has not initially felt better about themselves when hanging out with someone genuinely considered to be cool? We would be hard-pressed to find someone more amiable and unflappable than my man, Matthew McConaughey.
The jazz trumpet music in the background begins to crescendo as the MKX cruises through a lit tunnel, still no other cars on the road, the feeling we are driving during the wee hours of the morning is definite. Through the black and white screen of a security camera we see our front-man walking through a metal gate entering the foyer of this swank gathering. The music combines with the gorgeous esthetics of the house as McConaughey strolls down the hallway to a rousing greeting by the two big chill boys lounging about the chair and sofa. Bro-hugs are abundant while the lovely lady gets a kiss on the cheek. Finally, their leader has arrived, the party can begin. The four of them sit down at a circular table for a game of chance. Everyone wears a poker face as the cards are dealt. There is not even any liquor being consumed, that’s how cool these people are. No need to get faded, just hanging out with the main man is enough buzz for this crowd. McConaughey is the booze and the aphrodisiac! Like a finely aged whiskey he is that smooth.
In the three minutes of this advertisement the only real credibility being witnessed is the credibility of cool. McConaughey’s unique brand of cool. Besides being an academy award winning actor, Dallas Buyers Club (2013), McConaughey uses his platform as Lincolns front man and now creative director/spokesman for Wild Turkey bourbon, to let the viewing audience know what he opines life to be all about. These companies he advertises for are his podiums to deliver what you might call “McConaugheyism’s”, (Kurutz). He appears not to be selling, as much as getting his spiritual belief system out to the masses. “While other A-list pitchmen (like Jon Hamm, George Clooney or Jeff Bridges) play the game with just enough enthusiasm to earn the huge paychecks, Mr. McConaughey goes deep.” Over a 20 year period, almost unnoticed, he has been building a religion of sorts, he preaches to his flock through men’s magazines and television commercials, it could also be called the “Tao of Matthew McConaughey”, (Kurutz). Having worked with the cream of the crop of movie directors such as, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Steven Soderbergh and Richard Linklater, this actor has Hollywood clout for days. Having ditched romantic comedies for serious dramas, seemingly just to prove he could, he has created a following of people who not only respect his acting chops but his laid back and sage approach to life. “Sometimes you gotta go back to actually move forward,” he says in an early Lincoln ad while cruising a dark empty freeway. “And I don’t mean going back to reminisce or chase ghosts. I mean go back to see where you came from, where you been, how you got there.” Perhaps knowing we are weak or doubtful, he adds comfortingly: “I know there are those that say you cannot go back. Yes, you can. You just have to look in the right place”, (Kurutz). McConaughey often comes across like a worldly teacher, older brother or father figure and the Lincoln car company is going to great lengths to let the viewer know, they get the message, and they think you do too.
Lights are dim but bright enough to see all four people at the poker table as well as the flourish adorning the room. Unwanted cards are thrown in the center as the camera focuses on the final draw. All but two of the four enticing players fold, only McConaughey and the man with the untied bowtie remain. A winsome smile lights up bowties face as he lays down a full-house, queens over jacks. In a potent voice, almost smugly, he utters the words, “my apologies.” The camera pans over to the striking brunette as she looks first at the cards on the table then over to our sage pitchman. The fourth of the quartet, a suave gentleman who looks like he walked out of a scotch ad, rolls his eyes and shakes his head remorsefully, their alpha has been beat. The sun is beginning to come up in the early morning dawn as McConaughey adorns his famous smile and lays down a small straight flush, 2 to the 6 of spades. The winning hand.
The Lincoln MKX car commercial sets a mood and tone, it guides the viewer towards the real product being sold: a complete lifestyle and the gorgeous accoutrement that accompany it. Class, distinction, luxury, refinement, beauty and prestige are what is being offered to us. Hardly any of the MKX’s features are highlighted in this advertisement, that is not what it is about. There is a feeling of belonging and exclusivity here, from the lonely streets to the afterparty that only a select few were invited to. Now, you are one of them. Invited to witness how the other half lives, the vibe and verve, their vitality and beauty. The tagline at the end of the ad is, ‘the feeling stays with you, the entirely new Lincoln MKX.’ From the alluring jazz trumpet playing in the background cajoling the viewer along, to its ruggedly handsome front man and all his attitude has to offer, Lincoln has connected the dots for you, from functional benefit to true self-expression.
DeAngelis, Tori. 2015, “Class Differences” American Psychological Association, American
Psychological Association, www.apa.org/monitor/2015/02/class-differences.aspx.
Kurutz, Steven. “The Tao of Matthew McConaughey.” The New York Times, The New York
Times, 8 Dec. 2016, www.nytimes.com/2016/12/08/fashion/mens-style/the-tao-of-matthew-mcconaughey.html.
Jung, Kacie Lynn., et.al. (2002-2003), “Lifestyle Branding: As More Companies
Embrace It, Consumer Opposition Grows,” Journal of Integrated Communications, 40-45.
Plaut, Victoria, C., et al. “Does Attractiveness Buy Happiness? ‘It Depends on Where
You’re from.’” The Canadian Journal of Chemical Engineering, Wiley-Blackwell, 8 Dec. 2009, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1475-6811.2009.01242.x.