Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC
Mercedes-Benz USA, LLCMERCEDES-BENZ CORPORATE BRANDING CAMPAIGN
SMOOTH RIDE CAMPAIGN
UNLIKE ANY OTHER CAMPAIGN
Mercedes-Benz of North America was at the peak of its game in 1997 when it launched a comprehensive print and television brand campaign. Its sales were generally strong, its products were highly rated by industry analysts, and its market was loyal. This last point, though, held the seed of trouble; Mercedes knew enough not to remain complacent about its market. The plateau was illusory, because markets are dynamic: if Mercedes did not expand its market, and at the same time continually romance its existing market, eventually the market would be lured elsewhere. That year, Mercedes introduced its largest product line ever. New offerings included the M-class sport utility vehicle, the SLK roadster, the CLK coupe, and the E-Class station wagon. These joined the Mercedes classics, the S-, E-, and C-Class cars.
One unique aspect of the new brand campaign, created by Lowe & Partners/SMS, New York, was that it had no tag line. "One of the reasons we don't use a tag line is to bring new attributes to the [Mercedes] star," explained Michael Jackson, executive vice president of marketing for Mercedes, in Advertising Age. "The star is already one of the most admired logos in the marketplace…. This is going to be a remarkable defining of brand Mercedes in new ways." That assertion was no overstatement; the ads targeted a new younger market, emphasized visuals and sometimes music over dialogue, dispensed almost completely with product descriptions, and incorporated such elements as humor, whimsy, and even raciness.
The brand campaign, Mercedes' first since the early 1990s, was intended to lay the foundation for specific product launches later in the year. It broke in mid-February 1997 with a 30-second commercial on prime-time network and cable television. The television component was accompanied by six print ads, as well as outdoor, transit, and airport ads. It comprised five ad spots: "Symbols," "Press Conference," "Mercury," "Falling in Love," and "Don't Fence Me In." The spots ran initially for nine weeks and then reappeared later in the year. Each of the print ads featured an object that incorporated the Mercedes star, with one descriptive word, such as "fun," that related to the brand. Not once was the word "Mercedes" used.
By the end of the 1980s, U.S. sales had dropped for most European luxury car makers, including Mercedes. The economic recession, the luxury tax, and the dollar/mark valuation were part of the problem. In addition, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan were launching their first luxury lines in the United States, a move that split the luxury market three ways—American, European, and Japanese—instead of the previous two. A June 1991 report by the automotive market research firm J.D. Powers & Associates revealed that luxury owners appreciated status and prestige but "bought reliability." Reliability was the area in which Japanese cars excelled, even though Mercedes used about six times as much labor per car as did Toyota. The Powers study found that luxury buyers ranked Mercedes (and archrival BMW) higher for status than as cars they actually wanted to own. Among the reasons was that Mercedes were harder to maintain than the Japanese brands—the result of their being crafted more than manufactured.
The mind-set behind Mercedes' approach to production and its markets was expressed by Edzard Reuter, then chairman of Daimler-Benz: "We constantly study our position and we always come to the conclusion that we should stay away from mass production. The economies of scale wouldn't help us. Besides, we have a culture of engineering and product differentiation that would make it difficult." The cars were expected to last at least ten years, and some models could travel smoothly at 150 m.p.h. Although Germans and other Europeans were willing to pay for this hyperengineering, Americans increasingly were viewing it as irrelevant. By 1991, Mercedes was only beginning to pay attention to what the customer, and the American customer in particular, wanted. Before that, reports Alex Taylor in Fortune, Mercedes' motto was "The best or nothing." In 1990, the company changed it to "The best for our customers." This rewording coincided with a move to start improving production efficiency.
Turning some the focus from engineering to the customers prompted the recognition by Mercedes of North America that the future lay with the baby boomers. This group had a vastly different sensibility than did the traditional Mercedes customer base. Mercedes made its first deliberate attempt to reach this boomer audience in 1994 with a TV ad by Lowe & Partners/SMS using Janis Joplin's song about a Mercedes, with the famous line, "Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?" The ad received mixed reviews from industry watchers: Bob Garfield of Advertising Age considered this ad to be "an unspeakable misappropriation of '60s iconography … in support of the bourgeois trappings [Joplin] soulfully rejected." The Dallas Morning News noted that "while a risky departure from Mercedes' staid image," the ad "turned out to be wildly popular with the baby boomers the company was targeting." Cordell Koland of the Business Journal Serving San Jose & Silicon Valley called it "a breath of fresh air" and said "it was almost like seeing an ad for the Vatican featuring the Dallas Cheerleaders."
Mercedes continued in the same general direction with its 1995 campaign, also by Lowe. In the midst of a "demographic and cultural transformation," as Garfield described it, Mercedes still was not entirely natural with a hip stance. One commercial, set in New York, featured cameos of the designers Donna Karan, Bill Blass, and Isaac Mizrahi admiring a new Mercedes. However, the spot was full of inside jokes that would mystify most non-New Yorkers. Another commercial in the campaign depicted three cupids trying to help the owner of a Mercedes fall in love with his car. The message, presumably, was that it is okay to have a passion for your car. A third spot showed a Mercedes driving down the road, passing supermodel Paulina Porizkova, then space aliens, then Ed McMahon beckoning with a $10 million check. The voice-over says, "The new E-Class is so much fun to drive, what would you possibly want to stop for?" Particularly surprising for Mercedes, given its staid image, was the TV spot "Paradise Woman," featuring actor Michael Richards, who played Kramer on Seinfeld, in a racy bedroom scene. The final spot in the series takes place during an unusual rush hour; a Mercedes is surrounded by a herd of computer-generated rhinos. When one rhino kicks the door, the side air bag inflates. "Heaven knows," the voice-over muses, "there are animals on these roads."
Albert Weiss, director of national marketing communications for Mercedes-Benz of North America, stated to Koland that the goal of the campaign was to reconnect with the marketplace and establish relevancy with it. "The common thread throughout all these TV spots is relevancy—the things that our buyers relate to." In less than 10 years, Mercedes had gone from telling its buyers what they should value and presenting the product to them as a given, to trying to address their lifestyles and needs through the style as well as the content of its ads.
When Weiss discussed the 1994 and 1995 ad campaigns with Koland, he explained the need to communicate to a "broader, more diverse universe of customers." Those ads therefore targeted "a new generation of buyers—the baby-boom generation who are now entering our demographic segment." He further noted that the ads also reinforced the attributes that appealed to the current Mercedes-Benz owners. The 1997 brand campaign by Lowe continued to target these two groups, with growing emphasis on the baby boomers. The continuity among the various campaigns indicated that Mercedes recognized the need for persistence and steadfastness in communication, as well as ongoing efforts to understand the baby boomers. With those campaigns Mercedes was in essence building a relationship almost from scratch.
These "younger buyers" were people in their 40s. Most of Mercedes' current customers were in their 50s—in 1997 the average age of a Mercedes buyer was 52. The company expected the age of those who would buy the newer models, such as the SLK, the CLK, and the M-Class, to be in the 40-to-45 age range. If they had made enough money to purchase a Mercedes, these boomers could be considered part of the "establishment"—executives and professionals, but they did not necessarily start out that way. Often their path to financial security wound through the cultural upheavals that began in the 1960s. Even though on the outside the boomers may have resembled the more established customers, their perspective would always be a little "outside" and irreverent; Mercedes could not sell them with status and tradition alone. Connecting with the baby boomers took a slightly offbeat approach. Mercedes got it.
On one level any luxury car marketed in the United States could be considered competition for Mercedes—the American makes, such as Cadillac and Lincoln, and the Japanese makes, such as Lexus (Toyota) and Infiniti (Nissan). Certainly their markets overlapped with Mercedes, especially those of the Japanese, who entered the fray in the late 1980s.
TV SPOTS AND ASSOCIATED EMOTIONS OR EXPERIENCES, FROM THE MERCEDES-BENZ 1997 "CORPORATE BRANDING" CAMPAIGN
"Symbols": Brings together the many positive aspects of Mercedes ownership, including performance, excellence, fun, power, prestige, beauty, safety, innovation, value.
"Press Conference": fun.
"Falling in Love Again": passion.
"Don't Fence Me In": joy.
Mercedes' most significant competition, however, came from BMW. Headquartered only 120 miles apart from each other, the two German companies were known for their rivalry. Eberhard von Kuenheim, BMW's chairman for 21 years, said in 1991, "When we take a global view of our competitors, in Los Angeles, Tokyo, and Rome, we always see Mercedes-Benz." In 1996, the two rivals moved in opposite directions. Mercedes was trying to shed its stuffy image and "appear hip with new designs, new models, and new advertising," noted Alex Taylor in Fortune. He quoted chairman Helmut Werner, "We had to understand that the world had changed, and that the philosophy Mercedes had pursued so successfully had come to an end." At that time BMW, which already had a younger market than Mercedes did, was turning more conservative.
In the United States, the two German luxury car makers had not been competing for exactly the same customers. Mercedes' buyers tended to be wealthier, older, and more conservative. According to Taylor, they were interested primarily in "engineering, prestige, and safety." BMW buyers were "less often married and … more often female." Taylor quoted Susan Jacobs, a luxury car marketing consultant in New Jersey: "BMW had the image everybody wants—performance, handling, fun to drive." In 1995, BMW surpassed Mercedes in worldwide unit sales for the first time, although Mercedes continued to lead in revenue due to the higher price of its cars.
Mercedes' ad efforts through 1994 and 1995 therefore took aim at a segment of BMW's market. In 1995, BMW produced an ad introducing its Z3 roadster that starred Pierce Brosnan as James Bond. In November the movie "Goldeneye" opened, and in it Bond drove a Z3 instead of his usual Aston Martin. The two television spots were created by Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, using film footage. Dealers were sent "BMW 007 kits," and their customers were given an opportunity to preview both the movie and the car before they were released. The media exposure was unprecedented: more than 16 million Americans saw the Z3 roadster on the screen within four weeks of the movie's opening. By the end of 1995 more than 9,000 Z3s had been ordered, exceeding the target of 5,000. The goal, according to Jim McDowell, was to "establish the Z3 as an icon in the American cultural landscape."
The approach was so successful that BMW did the same thing in 1997 with the James Bond movie "Tomorrow Never Dies." The agency incorporated movie footage into three spots, four print spreads, and a newspaper ad. Secret agent Bond drove BMW's 750iLsedan and R 1200 Cruiser motorcycle.
Mercedes' brand campaign of 1997, at $45 million, represented the most expensive marketing initiative Mercedes had ever undertaken in the United States. The campaign aired on such top-10-rated network TV shows as Seinfeld, Friends, and ER, as well as prime-time cable. Mercedes saw the campaign as an investment in the relationship with baby boomers that it had been nurturing over the previous three years. In some ways it was not a typical brand campaign, however. "Mercedes is using its brand equity to create an umbrella over the new models," explained Frank S. Washington of Automotive News. Doing a separate launch for each new product would have led to confusion, noted Mercedes-Benz president Michael Basserman.
To entertain the target audience while informing them, Mercedes took a two-layered approach with the ads. The campaign was intended to highlight the attributes of the various models and the emotions they inspired in drivers. Basserman explained that Mercedes wanted to "tell the story about the vehicles, their value, performance and quality. But we want to add the dimension of emotion, passion and fun." Such qualities were essential to capture the attention of baby boomers, for whom status and self-importance would not be compelling—indeed, could possibly be a negative. Conversely, it was important, while conveying a new, youthful image, to "be respectful of our 100-year-old heritage," as marketing executive vice president Michael Jackson put it. To achieve this goal, the ads did not talk about quality but tried to embody it through elegance and wit.
Four of the five television spots focused on a specific emotion that expressed an aspect of ownership of a Mercedes. The fifth, "Symbols," illustrated how Mercedes embodied a breadth of fundamental qualities. In "Press Conference," engineers in white coats act as backup singers. Lyrics at the bottom of the screen are followed by a bouncing Mercedes star logo. In "Mercury," the god Mercury chases a cannonball; both are overtaken by a Mercedes driven by two women, one of whom snaps a photo of Mercury as they pass. The god is perplexed. In "Passion," historical footage of Mercedes cars, owners, and employees is digitally enhanced to mouth the words "falling in love again," sung by Marlene Dietrich. In "Don't Fence Me In," a couple in the Southwest views a smiling moon from an SLK convertible while animals sway to the Gene Autry song. In "Symbols," familiar images, some nostalgic, flash onto the screen: Superman, the game Twister, a bald eagle, a pyramid, a light bulb, and a smiley face. They represent performance, excellence, fun, safety, innovation, and value. "Can a symbol stand for all of these things?" a voice-over asks. "It depends on the symbol," comes the reply, as the Mercedes star comes on the screen.
Each of the six print ads showed an object that incorporated the Mercedes star logo. A single word tied it to the Mercedes brand. For example, a yellow rubber duck, with the logo in it eyes, was paired with the word "fun." A monarch butterfly had the logo in its wings and was connected with the word "beauty."
The Mercedes logo, ubiquitous throughout the campaign, represented masterful use of brand equity. For those who cared most about status and prestige, there it was. For those who cared most about quality, there it was. For those who cared most about performance, there it was. In this campaign the Mercedes star was not just a symbol; it became a mirror as well.
"The finest car campaign on the air and the best Mercedes advertising ever done," wrote Bob Garfield in Automotive News. He concluded his piece, "You take the high road. I'll take the Lowe road. And I'll be in the showroom before you." Praise for the campaign was practically universal. Lee Clow, chairman and chief creative officer of Lowe competitor TBWA Chiat/Day, wrote in Advertising Age regarding the "Falling in Love" spot, "This is one of those commercials where you say, 'Damn, I wish I'd done that.' The brilliant recreation of historic film, combined with the song … is elegantly irreverent. It's good, it's smart, it's entertaining. It captures so much of the soul of the brand in a very special way."
Mercedes' sales continued to increase through 1997—14.4 percent by August. In March 1998, almost exactly one year after the branding campaign was launched, sales were up 69 percent from the previous March. The multiyear advertising strategy for reaching the baby boomers, which started tentatively and achieved maturity with the 1997 branding campaign, made a major impact on those sales and on the willingness of baby boomers first to consider and then to buy Mercedes.
Garfield, Bob. "Mercedes Ads Find Their Voice, Their Style." Automotive News, March 3, 1997, p. 13.
―――――――. "Mercedes Bends, Uses Quirky Humor to Lure Baby Boomers." Advertising Age, December 11, 1995.
Halliday, Jean. "Ads Focus on Star Logo with No Tagline, Few Voice-Overs." Advertising Age, February 10, 1997, p. 16.
Kazenoff, Ivy. "In a High Performance Pursuit of Youth, Mercedes-Benz Gets Slightly Undignified." Advertising Age, March 1997, p. 27.
"Road Show for Mercedes: German Automaker Livens up Advertising Campaign in the U.S." Dallas Morning News, February 5, 1997, p. 2D.
Taylor, Alex. "Autos: BMW and Mercedes Make Their Move." Fortune, August 12, 1991, p. 56.
―――――――. "Speed! Power! Status! Mercedes and BMW Race Ahead with a New Generation of Cars to Lust For." Fortune, June 10, 1996, pp. 46-49.
Mercedes-Benz, whose cars were known for precise design and an elite image, felt the market shifting. Growth lay in the lower end of the luxury car market, as a strong economy put large numbers of people in a close-to Mercedes price range. Also, luxury features formerly available only on cars like Mercedes began appearing in other, lower-priced automobiles. In reaction to these trends Mercedes broadened its market by offering more models, some at lower prices, and an updated image. The accompanying advertising campaign was unconventional enough that it met substantial skepticism within the industry when it first appeared.
Lowe & Partners/SMS's award-winning national brand campaign for Mercedes, "Passion," was introduced early in 1997. The agency added to the campaign on Sunday, September 14, 1997, when ads introduced four new models. It was the company's largest retail launch in history. The 60-second "Falling in Love Again" television spot opened with documentary-style footage of Mercedes-Benz's earliest years. Throughout the spot Marlene Dietrichsang the song, "Falling in Love." The spot continued to visually walk through the car company's history with more and more people joining the singing. Lines included: "Never wanted to," "I can't help it," "Love's always been my game," "Play it out I say," and "I was made that way." The film quality of each shot reflected the era shown, with the spot changing to color in the scene set in the 1940s. At the close the viewer saw a 1997 convertible with the top going down. A couple leaned toward each other and kissed, as Dietrich sang the last line of the song and one word appeared on the screen, "Passion."
One of two 30-second television spots that ran for four weeks in November 1997 featured singer Robert Goulet spoofing himself while touting the great value Mercedes offered. A woman stopped her Mercedes at a toll barrier. When Goulet, as the toll taker, saw the car, he broke into singing "It's Impossible." In other scenes Goulet played a biker, a mop man at a car wash, and a meter maid, always running into the same woman and her Mercedes, always reacting with the song "It's Impossible."
The fall 1997 60-second "Big Show" spot featured archival and digitally enhanced footage from a popular 1960s television variety show hosted by Ed Sullivan. Amid scenes of acrobats, contortionists, ballet dancers, and others, the Mercedes ML320performed its own driving, handling, and traction feats.
Mercedes advertised on such shows as NFL Football, Frasier, Nightline, The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, and Late Show With David Letterman. Print ads appeared in the New Yorker, Fortune, Car & Driver, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and many other magazines and newspapers. Mercedes spent an estimated $100-110 million on ads in the U.S. market in 1998.
Independently of each other two German engineers, Carl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, began working on the internal combustion engine in the mid-1880s. Although they lived only about 60 miles apart, it seems that they never met. By 1885 Benz had built a three-wheeled car that could circle a track at 10 m.p.h. Daimler set up a workshop in 1882, testing his first engine on a wooden bicycle. In 1900 a member of the Daimler company board outlined a type of racer he wanted built. He promised to buy 36 of the racers but asked that the car be named after his one-year-old daughter, Mercedes. The car's top speed of 30 miles per hour made it one of the fastest on the road in 1900.
The companies began coordinating some design and production work by 1924, and in 1926 they merged to form Daimler-Benz AG. The three-pointed star became the corporate symbol, reportedly to represent the three arenas where its engines dominated—air, land, and sea. The company served the Nazi regime during World War II, but in the 1950s it established itself as a luxury car manufacturer. Its appeal as a car for the wealthy, status-conscious buyer grew steadily. On January 1, 1965, Mercedes-Benz of North America opened its doors.
The 1980s brought tough times for European car makers in the United States. Japanese competition, a weak dollar, and quality problems drove Renault, Peugeot, and Fiat from the U.S. market. Volkswagen lost market share with its rust-prone Rabbit and closed its Pennsylvania factory. Then in 1989 Lexus and Infiniti, luxury brands from Japanese car makers, hit showrooms. Lexus, in particular, delivered a level of quality and comfort unmatched by any other comparably priced high-end vehicle. The global marriage of Daimler-Benz AG and Chrysler Corporation in 1998 created DaimlerChrysler, the world's second largest corporation.
By 1994 Mercedes began reacting to a shift in the market for luxury cars. Previously, luxury cars were bought by a small number of the wealthy—often lawyers, doctors, and highly successful businessmen. A strong U.S. economy, plus the aging and growing affluence of the baby boomers, brought the prospect of buying a luxury car to the doorstep of many more, and much younger, people. Product features that had been available only in luxury cars were now being offered by manufacturers like Honda and Subaru. Many boomers passed up the Cadillac DeVilles favored by the previous two generations in favor of smaller, leaner, sportier cars like the Cadillac Catera.
Among the luxury car market a subcategory began to grow. Marketers called this segment near-luxury or entry-luxury cars. Examples included the BMW 3-Series, the Lexus ES 300and the Mercedes C280. The fall 1997 introduction of Mercedes' American-made sport-utility vehicle, the M-Class, was another example.
In 1998 Lindsay Chappell reported in Advertising Age that Mercedes had early jitters about how its brand equity might be diluted by reaching for this new, younger customer base. The early answer in 1998, based on the demand for the M-Class, was an overwhelmingly positive one. Demand outstripped supply. The New York Times wrote in December of 1997 that "Mercedes advertising has become clever—cool, even—and cars such as the C-Class sedan, the SLK roadster and the new CLK coupe are putting the three-pointed star within the grasp of younger buyers." Mercedes pegged the median age of the M-Class target buyer at 40, while the target for its high-end E-Class was age 52.
BMW and Mercedes appealed to similar markets and attracted almost identical sales in the U.S. in 1997. BMW sales rose more than 15 percent in 1997 to about 122,500 while Mercedes sales rose about 35 percent to 122,265 vehicles that year. One 1997 BMW print ad was a close-up of a gear shift. Instead of the familiar lines and numbers showing the shifting pattern, the lines led to the letters "YEEEHA." A single line of copy across the bottom of the ad read "Nothing is so blissful as driving a manual transmission. That's why we offer 11 models so equipped. All of which have the ability to leave you impressed beyond words. The Ultimate Driving Machine. It's far more than a slogan." Another ad shown a car about to broadside a BMW and a headline that read "Other head protection systems may be available in 12 months. Ours is available in the next .0025 seconds." An ad for BMW's M Roadster used the tag line "The wax can barely hang on."
Toyota Motor Corporation founded its Lexus division in 1989 largely to compete with the likes of Mercedes and BMW. It succeeded. Lexus quickly gained a reputation for high quality and successful products. Although Mercedes remained a more popular brand name than Lexus in the United States, consumers bought 98,000 Lexus vehicles in 1997. Lexus ran a campaign with a tag line from Shakespeare's Macbeth, "Something wicked this way comes." Three spots that ran on the Fox Network's The X-Files and Millennium in early October of 1997 all ended with this line. Lexus sought to attract what it called expressive buyers in their 40s. The campaign aimed to connect the Lexus GS 300and GS 400sedans with performance, fun, and excitement.
By the late 1990s Mercedes and its competition had taken their marketing efforts far beyond the traditional venues. Several car manufacturers began dueling in marketing arenas like concert sponsorships, literary events, and films. Lexus sponsored a 32-city world tour by rock musician Eric Clapton. Mercedes teamed up with the publishing company, Conde Nast, to lure magazine subscribers into fine restaurants to meet author Gay Talese. Inside the restaurants Mercedes parked one of its CLK coupes. BMW and Lexus sponsored a variety of events for subscribers of Harper's Magazine and Bon Appetit, respectively. The James Bond films Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies featured BMWs, while the Mercedes sport-utility vehicle later starred in Steven Spielberg's The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
"Passion" and other late 1990s Mercedes advertising campaigns reflected a shift away from an elite and exclusive image toward a keen, clever, and humorous approach. In the past, advertising for Mercedes seemed to imply that people should not even think about buying one unless they did not have to consider price. Television viewers got used to seeing Mercedes ads featuring German engineers in starched white lab coats talking about how well built and safe the car was. Other typical spots focused on beautiful mansions as the car pulled up front.
In 1994 this strategy changed. Since then, Mercedes ads have featured a singing baby, Johnny Carson's television sidekick Ed McMahon, former rock singer Janis Joplin, and Michael Richards, the actor who played Jerry Seinfeld's crazy television neighbor.
The company's rejection of elitism and embrace of contemporary smartness continued with "Falling In Love Again." Creative director/art director Andy Hirsch said that spot was intended to get people thinking, "Wait a minute, how did all these people sing this song before [the advent of] talking film?"
The president of Mercedes-Benz North America, Mike Jackson, said the seminal moment came in 1993 when the company decided to go for a total brand approach and deep-six all tactical activities like rebating and subsidized leases. Mercedes moved toward innovative and emotional products and toward creating aspiration rather than admiration. "We had to define the brand in new ways that made more sense to the people we were after, which was, and is, people within our income demographic, but somewhat younger than the 50- to 52-year-old average age buyer we had at the time," Jackson said.
In the late 1980s Mercedes and other European auto makers had been trounced by Japanese manufacturers of less expensive, better-built cars. The Wall Street Journal Europe said Mercedes and the other European companies renewed their focus on quality and value and learned to give customers what they wanted. What they wanted were vehicles like the Mercedes M-Class sport-utility. Mercedes also equipped its cars with features the consumer wanted, even mundane features like coffee cup holders. "Before, we were convinced we had to educate U.S. customers not to drink coffee when they drove," said Juergen Hubbert, a Daimler-Benz board member. "They responded by buying the other guys' cars." In 1998 the $33,950 Mercedes M-Class had five cup holders.
Mercedes also decided to build a car for Americans in America. It opened its Tuscaloosa, Alabama, plant to produce the sport-utility vehicle that would compete directly with Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Alabama plant eliminated the exchange-rate risk and saved 10-20 percent in labor costs.
MERCEDES-BENZ U.S. SALES
1993—61,899; 1994—73,002; 1995—76,752; 1996—90,844; 1997—122,265; 1998—170,245
Another key to the strategy was a focus on building customer relationships. For example, two years before releasing its first sport-utility vehicle, Mercedes built a customer base through an eight-piece direct-mail campaign. The campaign yielded a database of more than 100,000 names of people who said they were interested in buying the new car. With each mailing Mercedes included a survey, and it dropped every prospect who did not return it. Ranging from 5 to 50 percent, the response rate "blew us away" said Al Weiss, director of marketing communications. Weiss called the campaign a litmus test to see if the company could maintain a dialogue with customers.
Mercedes said its relationship building extended to its Internet site, where it created an S-class preview in November of 1998. Prospective buyers were sent only information they requested. If they asked only about performance, and not about safety or features, they were sent only performance information via E-mail or regular mail. "The more we tailor the communication to the prospect based on their feedback, the more excited the customer gets at a faster pace," said Bill Hurley, manager of new media and relationship marketing.
"Before 1994, the company was communicating 'the best car,'" Jackson told Brandweek. "Since the plan was put in place, we have been trying to inspire the consumer to feel 'the best car for me.' There is a big difference … You have to have a certain connection. You can't sit up there on a pedestal as an icon."
On Wednesday, January 7, 1998, one of the "Passion" spots, "Falling in Love Again," was named the year's best television commercial at the third annual International Automotive Advertising Awards. The spot also won an ADDY as the best single ad for automotive advertising at the 13th annual Best of New York American Advertising Awards.
In the February 9, 1999, issue of the New York Times, Stuart Elliott said Lowe's campaigns for Mercedes had been among the most honored in advertising, and sales increased substantially after the agency gained the account in November of 1993. The fall 1997 launch of the M-Class provoked a buying frenzy. Showrooms across the country reported huge crowds. Total company sales, which had increased more than 35 percent from 1996 to 1997, jumped another 39 percent in 1998.
"What was very effective was the dialogue of listening to the concerns of the people we invited to the relationship marketing, responding in a meaningful, knowledgeable way, and keeping that dialogue going through the whole process. The success of the relationship marketing program led to the situation where we have extraordinary demand for M-Class, which has been a sales success," said Jackson.
"Benz in the Road." Brandweek, October 26, 1998.
Chappell, Lindsay. "Shift in Viewing: Mercedes Scores with Hot M-Class." Advertising Age, April 6, 1998, p. S27.
Henry, Jim. "ML320 Launch Taught Mercedes a New Way To Attract Customers." Automotive News, October 13, 1997, p. 13M.
Mitchener, Brandon. "In Overdrive: German Car Makers Stage a Comeback in North America." Wall Street Journal Europe, January 6, 1998.
Chris John Amorosino
The launch of the sport utility vehicle Mercedes M-Class ML320 represented how far Mercedes-Benz of North America had traveled in recent years from its staid, conservative base and the depth of the cultural change it was undergoing. The ML320 was a midsize luxury sport utility vehicle (SUV) targeted to compete on price, as well as on features and attributes. Its September 1997 launch was an important component of Mercedes' three-year effort to expand its U.S. market to a younger group of buyers. This multifaceted effort involved new product development and line expansion, comprehensive brand advertising, product-specific campaigns, and even the construction of Mercedes' first U.S.-based manufacturing facility. It ultimately meant, as articulated by Mercedes-Benz chairman Michael Bassermann in Automotive News, "turning from an engineer-driven to a market-driven company."
The M-Class introduction was part of an $80 million advertising initiative running from September through December for four new products, the most Mercedes had ever brought out at one time. The other three were the SLK roadster, the CLK coupe, and the E-Class E320 station wagon. Lowe & Partners/SMS of New York, Mercedes' agency of record, generated the three spots for the M-Class products.
The development of the ML320 was well orchestrated, as was the overall marketing and advertising strategy. The project took four years, cost $300 million, plus an additional $350 million for dealer upgrades, involved a million test miles, and spurred the building of a new plant in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. In fact, the product represented a number of "firsts" for Mercedes: its first U.S. manufacturing facility, its first noncar vehicle, and its first price-based targeting. The vehicle was listed at about $34,000, making it a midrange rather than a high-end SUV.
Industry response to the design and handling of the vehicle was generally positive. Sue Zesiger of Fortune summed up her response after test-driving a new ML320 for three days in the Rockies: "It is classy, classic, and … wholly understated. It will tirelessly protect you and tend to your needs…. It will chauffeur you with the elegance and smoothness to which you should be accustomed. It will schlep all your sports equipment and wine cases and kids, and still fit into a normal-sized parking place."
Lowe had been involved in most of the marketing activities and campaigns that composed the major branding drive. For the M-Class product introduction, they produced three spots: "Big Show," "My Dad," and "Smooth Ride." The spots incorporated humor, nostalgia with pointed cultural references, and conceptual sophistication—by that time, Mercedes had come to understand well the baby boomer target market. Mercedes' brand equity and several years of strong sales and marketing had created an ideal context in which to run these ads and undertake the launch.
From 1991 through 1996, sales growth for sports utility vehicles averaged 9.8 percent. The 1997 SUV sales through August were up 15 percent; however, the midsize models were not experiencing the stunning growth of the previous years. Ford and Chrysler both put incentives on their midsize entries, a notable shift from the year before, when the products had been selling at full price. Trucks accounted for 31.7 percent of the passenger-vehicle market in 1987; by 1997 their share had climbed to 44.5 percent. Promising as this trend seemed to SUV makers, some industry analysts predicted that it would top off at 46 percent. Nextrend, a market research group in California, reported that the proportion of buyers switching from cars to trucks dropped to 28.6 percent in 1997 from about 33 percent in 1994. Mercedes clearly was entering a maturing market. Yet with about one-quarter of Mercedes owners also owning an SUV, the company felt compelled to leverage its name and grab some of those high-profit sales—SUVs were often laden with options, making them a high-margin product and a profit center for auto makers. These factors, along with an estimated SUV market value of $42 billion, meant Mercedes could not afford to stay out of the market.
The SUV market was also getting crowded with new entrants, as Lincoln and other car manufacturers launched new sport utility vehicles. Mercedes thus needed an innovative platform for reaching the best potential customers. The company settled on selling vehicles by mail order, something it had never done before. The goal was to have the entire first year's allotment of 35,000 vehicles presold. Mike Jackson, executive vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz of North America, explained, "We knew we were the more admired brand, but we needed to inspire more yearning. Besides, the world is not exactly waiting for a new sports utility vehicle from Mercedes-Benz." Mercedes would also use the direct mail campaign to get closer to potential buyers. The company, with direct marketing agency Rapp Collins Worldwide, obtained about 500,000 names from Mercedes' own and other, related lists. The mail campaign yielded much more than sales: it yielded valuable customer data and nurtured a relationship with customers and potential customers.
The people on the lists were asked if they would be willing to engage in a "two-year dialogue-by-mail," as Forbes described it, leading up to the introduction of the M-Class. Interested potential buyers received two bulk mailings, each of which contained a detailed survey questionnaire asking about a range of preferences, including styling, conveniences, and safety features. The responses would prompt a letter from the company describing the vehicle features in which the person had expressed an interest. Respondents also had an impact on the vehicle design. This direct mail campaign exemplified the transformation underway at Mercedes toward becoming "market-driven."
Sport utility vehicles have largely appealed to upper-income people who seldom use the vehicles' off-road capabilities but like their powerful presence on the road, their rugged styling, and their purported safety. Often, the owners have families with older children. Families with younger children tend to buy minivans, according to Takahashi of the Wall Street Journal. As the youngsters grow up, the family may switch to "a more powerful, more stylish sport utility vehicle such as a Chevrolet Suburban or Jeep." After the kids leave home, the parents are ready for a luxury car. Takahashi quoted one 36-year-old owner of a Jeep Cherokee: "Frankly, this is the age when you get a sport-utility vehicle." He added that he planned to buy a BMW when he hit his "midlife crisis," which he projected would occur around age 45. These people were younger than Mercedes' traditional customers; they were even on the younger side for baby boomers. The ML320 is Mercedes' "most significant attempt to attract a younger, less moneyed buyer," explained Zesiger of Fortune. By targeting the baby boomers, and even those slightly younger, with the relatively low price of the M-Class vehicle, Mercedes was laying the groundwork for securing the next generation of luxury car owners. If the Jeep Cherokee owner quoted above had instead owned an ML320, most likely he'd be planning to purchase a Benz rather than a BMW to soothe his anticipated midlife angst.
Throughout the early 1990s, a few producers battled for the sport utility market. Ford Motor Company's Explorer held the lead; Chrysler Corp.'s Jeep Grand Cherokee, with the second-largest market share, and Cherokee, with the third, each took significant percentages. Numerous other entrants, such as the Chevrolet Suburban and Blazer, had smaller but loyal market slices. In the mid-1990s, consumer interest shifted virtually en masse from minivans to SUVs. As the sports utility market fragmented, great success for new entrants would be an "uphill battle," according to Michael Davis of Gannett News Service. For example, Ford Motor Company's Lincoln-Mercury Division introduced the high-end Mercury Mountaineer in 1996. That same year, Japanese makers rushed to grab more of the hot market by putting their names on SUVs made by others: Honda Acura sold a version of the Isuzu Trooper as the Acura SLX, Toyota sold a version of the Toyota Land Cruiser as Lexus LX 450, and Nissan's Infiniti offered a version of the Nissan Pathfinder as Infiniti QX4.
By late 1997, the SUV segment was showing signs of vulnerability. Sales rose slightly from the same period in 1996, but sales for market leaders Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, Ford Explorer, and Chevy Blazer were down. The Explorer suffered the greatest loss, dropping over 4 percent from 1995 to 1996. Both Jeep and Ford put price incentives on their midsize entries, the Cherokee and Explorer, further evidence of the sales slowdown. Meanwhile, Toyota Motor Corp., which previously had never made enough of its sports utilities to meet demand, began advertising in the summer of 1997 new availability of its Land Cruisers, 4Runners, and RAV4s.
THE MERCEDES ML320 IN A CROWDED MARKET
The ML320 ($33,950-$39,520 in 1998) competed on two fronts: the midsize, midprice SUVs, which it challenged on value, and luxury SUVs, which it challenged on price: Midsize, about $30,000 Ford Explorer Limited Jeep Grand Cherokee Toyota 4Runner Luxury Lexus LX450 ($48,700-$53,400 in 1997) Lincoln Navigator ($43,300 in 1998) Range Rover 4.6HSE ($63,625 in 1997).
Into this fray jumped the M-Class. To the surprise of many, it targeted not so much the high-end SUVs, such as the Land Rover, but the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Ford Explorer. Mercedes was willing to sacrifice a little profit margin for volume and, more important, longer-term customer relationships. The ML320 was intended as the introductory Mercedes product for younger buyers who would eventually buy more expensive Mercedes cars. Zesiger described the move: "The final flourish: the German haute manufacturer announced … that the ML320 would list for $33,950. In other words, Mercedes comfort, safety, and reliability at a middle-of-the-pack price? Move over, Jeep Grand Cherokee. Take that, Land Rover Discovery. Heck, the analysts are even mentioning the ML320 in the same breath as the best-selling 4×4, Ford Explorer."
An advertising campaign by Ford to boost Explorer sales in late 1996 proved popular with consumers but only moderately successful in boosting sales. In the effort to woo affluent baby boomers, it relied on nostalgia, with a takeoff on the old television show Green Acres in one spot and the use of the cartoon Rocky and Bullwinkle in another. The spot was most effective among 30- to-49 year olds, roughly the same age group, the early forties, that Mercedes was targeting for the ML320.
The three-spot M-Class campaign created by Lowe & Partners/SMS that Mercedes launched in the fall of 1997 also made use of nostalgia to target the baby boomers with the "Big Show" spot featuring Ed Sullivan footage. Sullivan was part of the cultural underpinning of that generation, having introduced such groups as the Beatles and the Supremes to the baby boomers during their formative years. The "Big Daddy" spot spoke to the boomers' role as parents and their concern about safety, albeit in a spoofing manner.
The third spot, "Smooth Ride," gently mocked the whole "have your cake and eat it too" mind-set of this market. While baby boomers liked to think of themselves as young and outdoorsy and vigorous, hence the image value of the SUV, they also preferred not to have their comfort disturbed. The ad spot shows the ML320 tearing across demanding terrain. Inside the car, a woman painted her nails in the front seat. In back, her daughter built a house of cards. Her son offered his grandmother a cup of fresh tea, saying "Here's your scalding hot cup of tea." The family dog, a terrier, balanced a ball on its nose and several china cups on its paw. These feats were a humorous overstatement of the smooth ride. The message: don't worry, you are not overreaching; you can have it all—your swagger and your comfort.
In developing the spot, Lowe aimed to put the focus on the situation, not the characters. Thus, "straight-looking" people were used, which also enhanced the "mirror value" of the spot for the viewers. The humor, nostalgia, and whimsy in the ads were a continuation of Mercedes' ongoing strategy as enacted in its earlier 1997 brand campaign. Although presenting and marketing a specific product, these three ad spots also worked synergistically with the broader brand campaign to advance the overall brand-building initiative.
Mercedes bought ad time during the Emmy Awards for the spots and also ran the ads on its usual prime time schedule, which included Seinfeld and ER, as well as on cable, including A&E and ESPN. Print ads broke in the fall issues of Outside, The New Yorker, Forbes, and other publications.
Buyers continued to pour into the showrooms after the three ad spots, "Smooth Ride," "Big Show," and "Big Daddy," broke in the fall of 1997. Many factors may have contributed to this interest, however, including the direct mail campaign and the branding initiative. The buyers, however, were exactly the group that the ads had targeted. Along with the broader branding campaign initiated earlier in the year, these ads continued to affect the cultural shift at Mercedes from being "engineer-driven" to "customer-driven." Part of that process was leaving behind the snob-appeal aspect of the brand while keeping—indeed strengthening—the sense of quality and substance. Certainly these ad spots treaded that fine line. No one could accuse these ads of portraying Mercedes' products as elitist or exclusive. The final answer to the question of whether the ad campaign succeeded would only come when enough time has passed to determine how many young, forty-something M-Class buyers traded up to Mercedes' luxury car models.
MERCEDES ML320 WILD DEBUT
In early 1997, Mercedes used the movie "Lost World: Jurassic Park" to launch the ML320. Prominent product placement in the film was leveraged with ads and retail promotions from Lowe & Partners. This promotion, along with the direct mail campaign, worked better than expected. One example was a party in September for the introduction of the M-Class. At a Silicon Valley dealership, 3,200 customers showed up. According to the Wall Street Journal, "The gridlock outside got so bad that a nearby freeway exit had to be shut down." The dealership manager said that when the demonstrator models arrived "it was like a World Wrestling Federation match. People were screaming, 'It's mine!' 'I've got it next!'" Near-frenzy occurred at many showrooms. The M-Class had sold out in many areas, and some prospective buyers were forced to wait until spring for delivery.
Giardina, Carolyn. "Dir. Simon West Takes a 'Smooth Ride' in a Mercedes." Shoot, September 19, 1997.
Halliday, Jean. "Mercedes-Benz Widens Media Buys for M-Class Intro." Advertising Age, September 1997.
Levine, Joshua. "Give Me One of Those." Forbes, June 3, 1996, p. 134.
Reitman, Valerie. "Autos: With Mercedes' New M-Class, Make That M for Mania." Wall Street Journal, October 9, 1997, p. B1.
Takahashi, Corey. "Autos: Midlife Crisis? Trucks, Vans Start to Lose Their Luster." Wall Street Journal, August 14, 1997, p. B1.
Zesiger, Susan. "Spending the Big Ticket: It's a Car. It's a 4×4. It's a Benz." Fortune, September 29, 1997, pp. 310.
With the arrival of the brand-new SL500, Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) wished to gain the number one spot in the U.S. luxury-automobile market. At the time it sat in third place, behind BMW and Lexus. MBUSA and Merkley Newman Harty & Partners (later renamed Merkley and Partners), an ad agency based in New York, believed that by simply revealing the SL500 as "Mercedes at its finest," Mercedes's goal could be achieved. Thus, the 2002 "Unlike Any Other" campaign was launched. As it was promoting an $85,000 automobile, the campaign was not intended to appeal to the masses. Instead the goal was to remind Mercedes's customers of the SL500's automotive excellence, style, and tradition.
Debuting the week of March 11, 2002, on major network television, "Unlike Any Other" was seen on both local and national cable networks as well as during the Academy Awards ceremony and the NCAA basketball tournament. Print advertising, present in major newspapers and magazines, was also big-budget. Further support came through radio, outdoor, and interactive advertising, relationship marketing (in which emphasis was placed on building long-term relationships with customers), and collateral materials (such as sales brochures). The campaign's strategy involved enhancing an emotional connection consumers had with their Mercedes cars. Although MBUSA did not disclose the campaign's budget, it was known that the luxury-automobile company had spent $164 million on advertising in 2001.
The campaign's advertisements won few awards, perhaps because the focus was less on creativity than on confirming authenticity. And while the SL line of vehicles experienced a brief jump in sales in 2002, success was limited. Soon afterward sales of the SL began to weaken, and from 2003 to 2004 the number of SL-class vehicles sold in the United States declined 3.3 percent. Overall, MBUSA's sales did not fare much better, with a mere 1.3 percent increase in auto sales from 2003 to 2004. In the end MBUSA was not able to move into first place in U.S. luxury-car sales. Still, the advertisements benefited Mercedes-Benz, as they clearly demonstrated the undeniable beauty and excellence of the SL500.
Since it was established in 1965 Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, a subsidiary of DaimlerChrysler AG, had been considered the standard in automotive luxury and excellence. As a result marketing efforts for the automobile were most often targeted at a wealthy, elite group. Such was the case for the 2002 "Unlike Any Other" advertising campaign. Yet since its beginnings, Mercedes had grown to include more affordable automobiles in its lineup. In particular, the introduction of the C-Class in 1994 made Mercedes more accessible to some who sat outside of the elite class.
In 1995 Mercedes-Benz broke from a tradition of marketing to a mostly (older) male elite crowd with its use of the Janis Joplin song "Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz" in its advertising. The goal was to appeal to a generation raised on rock music in a more approachable, less sedate, manner. The new advertising strategy largely promoted the lower-priced C-Class, which then sold for as low as $30,000. It worked, and the cars sold. The marketing approach continued beyond the Joplin commercials, including those promoting the new E-Class, with a $40,000 price tag, in 1996. The promotions included extensive Mercedes catalogues spreads. With such titles as "Inspiration," "Imagine," and "Dreams," the catalogues spread a message of approachability, value, and fun. This type of marketing approach, which focused on value, continued for Mercedes-Benz but was different from that of the 2002 "Unlike Any Other" campaign. The latter campaign focused less on value and more on the automobile's tradition of engineering excellence.
Because the SL500 had a price tag of $85,000, Mercedes's target market for the car was not all that diverse. Actually, it was rather insular, especially with its focus on people's emotional connection with their Mercedeses. Such television spots as "Reincarnation"—in which an aged Mercedes car was about to be crushed, and its "life" flashed before its eyes—established an emotional connection to the brand. This marketing was directed toward long-term Mercedes owners, who historically had been a loyal bunch, often sentimentally so.
Mercedes-Benz would not always target such a small market, as was later seen in the 2004 "Portraits" campaign. That campaign, which used approximately 25 percent of MBUSA's $140 million advertising budget, announced the arrival of products for just about everyone, not simply the wealthy, with products' prices ranging from $25,000 to $450,000. But this was not the case with the "Unlike Any Other" campaign, because the SL-Class models obviously could not be attained by everyone. With this campaign Mercedes simply wished to remind those already familiar with Mercedes, and in particular the SL Class, that, because of the car's construction, power, beauty (everything that made a Mercedes a Mercedes), it was well worth the price.
While Mercedes was debuting "Unlike Any Other," Audi AG, a top competitor with DaimlerChrysler (the parent company of Mercedes), launched one of the biggest ad campaigns in its history. As with "Unlike Any Other," Audi's "A8" campaign banked on people's emotional attachment to their cars. In the campaign's prelaunch phase the Audi brand, and in particular its sporty and progressive image, was portrayed emotionally through its history. Using approximately 600 people—including Audi employees, advertising specialists, producers, photographers, a symphony orchestra, composers, directors, and actors—Audi packed its entire history into a series of television commercials, while at the same time introducing a new product. At the campaign's start Audi AG's sales were about $23 billion. In the year following the campaign's debut, sales jumped to over $29 billion. By 2004 the number had exceeded $33 billion. But at the same time Audi of America, a more direct competitor with Mercedes-Benz USA, was experiencing serious declines in sales. In 2004 it sold under 78,000 cars, reflecting a 9.8 percent decrease from 2003.
A relative newcomer in the industry, Lexus (owned by Toyota) was launched in 1989 and quickly became the best-selling line of U.S. luxury cars. In 2003, however, BMW took the lead, and Lexus fell to second. But at the same time, the consulting firm Automotive Consultants Incorporated published results from a yearlong study, claiming: "The Lexus LS 430 is the finest luxury sedan in America." Lexus used this data in a 2002 advertising campaign, challenging customers to think of Lexus in the same (or even higher) category as other leading luxury-car manufacturers, such as Mercedes and BMW. But any success this brought, including record sales in 2002, was not long lasting. From 2004 to 2005 Lexus sales in the U.S. dropped by 4.4 percent.
Also during the debut of "Unlike Any Other," another Mercedes competitor, BMW, was making advertising history with its release of "The Hire" short-film series. Created by top Hollywood directors such as John Woo and Guy Ritchie, the eight Internet-broadcast films starred BMW cars and actor Clive Owen, who played the driver. BMW's original goal was to have two million consumers view the eight-minute online commercials. Within a year this was very much surpassed, with more than 45 million viewers. Following the debut of the advertising films, BMW's worldwide sales grew more than steadily, from $44 billion in 2002, to $52 billion in 2003, up to $60 billion in 2004. U.S. sales also increased each year from 2002 to 2005. In 2003 BMW became the best-selling luxury car in the U.S.
In conjunction with the arrival of the newest model of Mercedes-Benz automobiles, the SL500, Mercedes-Benz USA (MBUSA) launched a major marketing campaign under the tagline "Unlike any other." The campaign launch featured four national and seven regional television spots as well as an extensive print-media campaign. Led by ad agency Merkley Newman Harty & Partners, New York, it represented the largest U.S. marketing campaign for Mercedes since the 1990s.
The SL500 represented Mercedes at its best, often inducing an emotional response from customers. According to one Road and Travel Magazine writer: "Just when you thought it couldn't get any sexier … Mercedes-Benz rolls out the unforgettable new 2003 SL500…. And once you take a look, you'll take a second one. Soon thereafter is when your jaw hits the ground, rendering you a blubbering mess of drool. Trust us. We've spent time in this car. It has that effect on people. It's simply arresting.?"
RIGHT OVER THEIR HEADS
Michael McClure, the renowned Beat Generation poet, wrote "Mercedes Benz," which was released as a Janis Joplin song in 1971. With the lyrics "Oh lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes Benz? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends," the song was intended as a satire of materialism.
This was what MBUSA and Merkley were banking on when it launched the "Unlike Any Other" campaign. The tagline, which adorned all ads in the new campaign, was supposed to be met with nods of agreement among consumers, who would know exactly what Mercedes was talking about. Further, the campaign was intended to regain Mercedes-Benz's leadership position in the U.S. luxury-automobile industry. In 2001 Mercedes had slipped to third, behind BMW and Toyota's Lexus.
Meanwhile, the first television spot, "Timeless Ride," which aired nationally, represented an attempt to draw on people's long-standing affection for the SL model. The ad featured a woman driving different generations of the SL, in conjunction with the time period each existed. Beginning in the 1960s and ending post-2000, such images as oversized Jackie Onassis-style sunglasses, a disco ball, punk hairstyles, and so forth, coincided with those of the car's various models. With a similar theme of sentimentality, three other nationally run spots debuted: "Reincarnation," during which an old Mercedes-Benz"s" life "flashed before its eyes;" Sanctuary, "a flashback to 1950s black-and-white dramas; and" Crash Test, "which focused on Mercedes's legendary strength. Each of the four national spots ended with various twists on the tagline:" Timeless. Unlike any other,"" Soul. Unlike any other,"" Security. "Unlike any other," and last, "Built. Unlike any other."
The regional ads went a step further than the national ads. Even as they kept the strong commitment to the Mercedes brand and the "Unlike any other" tagline, the seven regional executions moved the focus into three specific areas: value, safety, and customer service. And this was done with a backdrop of humor. In "Woman," for instance, a man riding a bus used the panorama roof of the C-Class Coupe to his advantage, when he passed on his phone number to the attractive woman driver. It wound up in the glove compartment, along with many others. The spot ended with the tagline "Value. Unlike any other." In "Baby" parents out shopping for baby-proofing items realized that had they left the baby in the car. A voice-over stated, "If everything was as safe as an M-Class, you'd have a lot less to worry about," and the commercial ended with "Security. Unlike any other."
The 2002 television spots were debuted the week of March 11 on major network TV, appearing during such popular shows as The West Wing, ER, and The Tonight Show, as well on as such national cable networks as ESPN, A&E, CNN, and MSNBC. More significantly, the ads were run during that year's Academy Awards and NCAA Conference Finals, Championship, and Final Four basketball tournaments. Beyond TV, the print advertising was displayed in major papers and magazines, including the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, Fortune, and the New Yorker. The campaign's other efforts, including radio spots, outdoor and interactive ads, relationship marketing, and collateral materials, further spread Mercedes's message.
While the "Unlike Any Other" campaign did not cause a sensation in the advertising world, it did win a few awards. The television commercial "Reincarnation," during which a classic Mercedes was about to be crushed, for instance, garnered an AdForum Creative Hits award (determined by users of the AdForum website) in 2002 and was shortlisted at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France in 2003. The campaign was more successful in terms of financial payoff for the company, but the SL class that was specifically promoted in "Unlike Any Other" experienced only brief and limited success.
The months following the launch of "Unlike Any Other" reflected an increase in MBUSA's sales, which peaked in July 2002, when 14,937 new vehicles were sold (causing a seven-month year-to-date sales record for MBUSA, of nearly 118,000 cars sold). Further, the SL class posted a 78.5 percent increase for the month and more than double its year-to-date volume of the same period during 2001. But by the following year the numbers were dwindling. From 2003 to 2004 the number of SL-class automobiles sold in the United States declined 3.3 percent, even as MBUSA's total sales improved 1.3 percent during the same time period. And this increase would not be enough for MBUSA to meet its goal. In the end Mercedes was not able to come close to becoming the leader in U.S. luxury-car sales.
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Candice L. Mancini