Mercedes takes affordability message to malls

Hey, if it's good enough for Santa Claus, it's good enough for Mercedes-Benz....

Hey, if it’s good enough for Santa Claus, it’s good enough for Mercedes-Benz.

When it came to launching its 2001 C-Class sport sedan – ‘the New C’ – in the Canadian marketplace, the auto maker faced a dilemma: Many of the consumers who might be interested in the vehicle are precisely the sort of people who would never set foot in a Mercedes dealership.

To reach these folks, it was clear, the car would have to come to them. Which is why, in the weeks ahead, the New C will be making an appearance at a shopping mall near you.

Now, it might seem a bit unusual for one of the world’s most respected luxury auto manufacturers to unveil its newest offering in a setting more likely to host children’s sing-alongs, talking Christmas trees and visits from St. Nick. But with a starting price of $37,450, the New C is more affordable than most people would expect a Mercedes to be, says Geoffrey Roche, president and creative director of the company’s Canadian agency of record, Toronto-based Roche Macaulay & Partners Advertising. Taking the car into malls will give more people the chance to discover it, he says, and will help reinforce the perception that it’s something within reach.

‘The big problem we face is getting people to even consider it, because it has the [Mercedes] star on the front,’ Roche says. ‘There’s something about going into a Mercedes dealership. It’s not unlike walking into a Holt Renfrew or a Tiffany – we have a challenge getting some people to feel comfortable. I know a guy who could probably afford to buy 10 of these cars, but he’s just never been to a Mercedes dealership.’

The mall display, which will appear in approximately 60 shopping centres across the country, employs towers with the New C logo emblazoned at the top to catch the attention of passing shoppers. The Mercedes-Benz logo, by contrast, has deliberately been kept unobtrusive, appearing only at the bottom of the tower.

The car is parked on a large carpet, on which has been printed a list of its many features. A Mercedes-Benz representative will be on hand at all times to answer questions. The mall displays are expected to be in place until well into the New Year.

To kick off the New C launch campaign, a free-standing insert appeared in some two million newspapers across Canada on Oct. 12. The creative is intended to combat the notion that a Mercedes is the sort of car only affluent fiftysomethings can afford.

On the front page is a timeline on which significant life events (‘Go to school,’ ‘Get a job,’ ‘Buy a house’) are marked. ‘Buy a Mercedes’ appears near the end, between ‘Make president’ and ‘Shoot 3 over par,’ and not long before ‘Move to Florida’ and ‘Eat dinner at 4:00.’ The insert opens to reveal a picture of the New C, and the headline ‘Not necessarily in that order.’

As in the case of the mall display, the Mercedes-Benz name and logo do not appear prominently. ‘When you put the word Mercedes up front, you automatically knock a bunch of people off the list,’ Roche says. ‘And to broaden the popularity of the brand, they’ve got to get new customers into this car. So let them discover the car, and then let [the fact that it's a Mercedes] be a wonderful surprise.’

Traditional advertising support for the launch is relatively limited. In addition to the FSI, there are banner ads in newspapers meant to drive people to the malls to check out the New C (‘It’s like a petting zoo for grownups’ is the headline on one), along with a Web site (www.allnewC.com). Some television has also been produced, although it has yet to be decided when – or even whether – the work will air.

It won’t be easy to get people thinking differently about the Mercedes brand, Roche says. But it can be done.

‘I love challenges. I think that’s the whole role of an agency, in its strategic partnership with a client. I love grappling with these things. It’s what makes this business interesting – trying to change people’s perceptions.’

Credits

Client: Mercedes-Benz Canada

Agency: Roche Macaulay & Partners Advertising

Strategic Planner: Tina Fernandez

Project Manager: Jeremy Roche

Creative Directors: Geoffrey Roche and Graham Lee

Art Director: Dave Federico

Writer: Jim Diorio

Production Manager: Jeffrey B. Ostilly

Studio: Black Lab Digital

Media: Newspaper, Mall Displays, Web

Start Date: October 12