Print helps Mercedes pursue younger execs

It's the kind of car driven by company CEOs and presidents.
That's a good thing, of course, but how to convince young, affluent professionals that Mercedes-Benz can be their kind of car, too?

It’s the kind of car driven by company CEOs and presidents.

That’s a good thing, of course, but how to convince young, affluent professionals that Mercedes-Benz can be their kind of car, too?

With the help of newspaper advertising – and a tongue-in-cheek delivery meant to intrigue professional 30-somethings – Mercedes-Benz Canada and its agency, Roche Macaulay & Partners, pushed the formerly intimidating brand into the consciousness of its target audience. A car that used to be out of reach suddenly seemed quite attainable.

The goal

While Mercedes had launched entry-level cars before the C-Class, this one was designed to turn heads. It was sporty-looking and inexpensive by Mercedes standards, starting at $37,900. Yet it included many of the technological features of an upper-end Benz, such as a fibre-optic communications system and head protection curtains (a side-deployed airbag).

The goal was to get Mercedes on the shopping lists of those 30-somethings who were looking at, say, BMWs and even Japanese imports. ‘Never in a billion years do they imagine themselves as Mercedes owners,’ says Jim Diorio, senior writer and group creative head for Roche Macaulay & Partners. The agency’s job was to change that perception.

The strategy

Who’s actually been inside a Mercedes dealership? The agency knew that these bastions of elegance were considered out-of-reach for most of the target audience. So, instead of putting the onus on the consumer to enter such an intimidating environment to see the car, the agency decided to bring the car to the people.

And what better way to show that Mercedes is changing its stripes than to introduce the car in shopping malls, the antithesis of exclusivity?

The main buy, as it almost always is with Mercedes, was newspaper. When the car launched, in October 2000, dealer-driven ads appeared to drive traffic to the malls.

Then in mid-October, an eight-page FSI went into Canada’s two national dailies. The cover featured a timeline of a person’s life – birth, school, work, become president of the company, buy your first Mercedes, retire. The kicker, inside: ‘Not necessarily in that order.’ The back cover also included a tongue-in-cheek ‘gift card’ in case the reader was interested in ordering one for a friend.

‘We were taking the bluster out of people’s perception of Mercedes-Benz,’ says Diorio. The ad also featured a list of malls where the car could be viewed and a Web site address.

The results

Joanne Caza, director of marketing and public relations for Mercedes- Benz in Canada, says that there was an immediate reaction felt at the dealerships after the FSI was published. At first, production couldn’t keep up with demand, she says, although that is changing as production levels ramp up.

Diorio adds that ‘customers would literally come from the mall to the showroom,’ and that the marketing – which was essentially cold calling to a whole new audience – was such a success the car was sold out almost immediately.

The approach was expanded this past summer with the introduction of the C-Class Coupe, again targeted to young professionals. This time, the company placed ads in urban weeklies, something it had never done before.