Mercedes Debuts Infomercial Promoting Sale of Pre-Owned Cars

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After more than 100 years of building and selling luxury cars directly to the public, Mercedes-Benz has finally driven into the DRTV industry.

A new lead-generating infomercial touting the Starmark Pre-Owned Mercedes-Benz has just finished its first phase of testing in undisclosed regions of the country. The tests began in mid-May and ran until the end of June. The long-form marks the first time that Mercedes has used the infomercial format for the direct marketing of any of its products to the public.

The second phase -- which will be half rollout, half test -- will resume in August, and the spot, fully tweaked and ready to go, will begin a full-scale national blitz this fall across all spectrums of the dial.

Mark Ratner, senior vice president of client services and marketing at hawthorne direct, Fairfield, IA, said media placement for the first phase of the long-form is generating tremendous response.

"Mercedes wanted to bring more attention to the pre-owned program and felt that a 30-minute infomercial was needed to convey that," Ratner said. "Plus, the accountable nature of an infomercial -- which can track results and the people who call and buy -- is the kind of accountable advertising that Mercedes is looking for. So far, we have had a great response from exactly the people we are looking to target."

Produced by Rapp Collins Worldwide, New York, the long-form targets a mostly male, 45-and-older audience, with an average income of $100,000. Through old black-and-white racing footage, stories about the origin of the Mercedes name and a review of the company's brand image in America, the long-form focuses more on the past than on the Starmark program itself.

"Detailing the history of the company is basically a way to distinguish ourselves from the competition," said Larry Lowe, Rapp Collins account supervisor for Mercedes-Benz. "The thought is that if you start with one of the best new cars in the world, you are going to get one of the best used cars in the world.

"There is a heritage that we can leverage that obviously Lexus cannot. BMW can to some extent, but we truly are innovators and have a great history of over 100 years of selling cars, and it's something that we use to distinguish ourselves. The message is that the experience for a customer should not be any different between the new and pre-owned Mercedes."

Viewers can respond to the ad either by calling an 800 number or visiting the Web site.

"There is a real emphasis to get people to ... the Web site, and we have had tremendous successes in doing that," Ratner said.

Lowe said the brand is so heavily imbued in the spot because the call-to-action to the site would elicit the information necessary to purchase the car. There was also the problem of getting people to understand that Starmark means Mercedes, which could only be solved by highlighting the brand, Ratner said.

"The reason they feel they need to do something like this is that leasing has exploded in the last few years, and there is going to be a lot of surplus coming back into the market," Lowe said. "What they need to do is to make sure they are still moving pre-owned vehicles in order to maintain brand equity for their new cars.

"They want the value of their cars to maintain where it currently stands, and the way to do that is [to] make sure that with the surplus of cars coming off of lease, you are still moving those cars. You are not going to move cars with the Starmark name. You are going to do it with the Mercedes-Benz name."

Both Lowe and Ratner said that the presentation's quality was key to keeping up with the Mercedes image. Lowe said the infomercial was shot on 35 mm film, and quality was raised all around.

The infomercial is part of an overall integrated marketing campaign between Rapp Collins, the direct response agency, and Merkley Newman Harty, New York, the general agency, which will handle radio, print and general television.

Lowe added that the long-form may be cut to 15 minutes and sent to Starmark Mercedes-Benz dealers across the country after it has aired.

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