Mercedes Goes Full Throttle on Pitch to Younger Drivers

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Aiming for a younger demographic than usual, Mercedes-Benz will rely heavily on the Internet to market its new C-Coupe to drivers ages 25-35.


"We've never actually gone after this target before. With the tremendous advantage in price point, it's around $25,000, it attracts a younger potential buyer," said Sue Collins, director of budget in the marketing communications department at Mercedes-Benz USA, Montvale, NJ.


The company's online efforts include a sweepstakes running through Sept. 30 that will award a 2002 C- Coupe to the winner; a Flash site -- www.ccoupe.com -- separate from Mercedes-Benz's main site; rich media banner ads; wireless ads; and two e-mail drops.


The automaker's traditional demographic is consumers ages 30-54 and 60 percent male. The typical Mercedes buyer is 50 years old, married and has an annual household income of $130,000. Mercedes-Benz cars retail for $25,000 to $120,000.


Mercedes-Benz executives believe that the "very mobile, technically-savvy" target group needed exciting online and wireless advertising.


"We looked at wireless phone and Palm Pilot integration, and how we could get more interactive with our banner ad program and start to deliver rich media that speaks to this group," said Dave Tourtlotte, manager of e-business at Mercedes-Benz.


"If we were to launch an s-class vehicle, our higher-line sedan, we would not necessarily look at developing a Palm Pilot application for that or deliver a message through someone's phone," Tourtlotte said.


While the sweepstakes launched in June, wireless ads were sent this month. The ads were not pushed to users. Rather, users could click on Mercedes-Benz's ads if interested. Though Mercedes executives did not want to reveal the number of wireless impressions, up to 7 million users of Internet-capable personal digital assistants and wireless phones could have seen the ads.


Flash and Superstitial ads on Kellybluebook.com, cars.com, Launch.com, BlackPlanet.com, Shockwave.com and other automotive and entertainment sites are generating click-throughs of 4 percent to 5 percent.


"We're advertising on a lot of different sites, like music sites. We're sort of tapping into what this age demographic does online," Collins said.


The rich media ads are designed to "break through the clutter" of static banner ads, Collins said. Some of the ads, such as one running on Yahoo's finance page, highlight the vehicle and provide a dealer-locator service within the ad. Others let consumers enter the sweepstakes, and some allow viewers to download screensavers and e-postcards and e-mail them to friends.


Meanwhile, a test e-mail drop to 32,700 addresses from yesmail.com this summer drew a response rate of 6.6 percent. Mercedes will send 300,000 e-mails to names taken from automotive Web site lists late this month.


"These are sites where people shop, and we have selected demographics that fit the new C-Coupe target," said Maria Goldblatt, department manager of CRM/relationship marketing at Mercedes-Benz. Executives expect the e-mail drop this month, done with Chicago agency Critical Mass and DoubleClick, to meet or exceed the initial test, Goldblatt said.


At the Web site, www.ccoupe.com, sweepstake entrants are required to enter their names and e-mail addresses and can opt for Mercedes-Benz updates and the ability to send information on the sweepstakes to 10 friends.


Consumers also are urged to search for local Mercedes-Benz dealers.


"We don't sell cars, we sell cars to our dealers, so they're an integral partner in this," Tourtlotte said.


The wireless initiative was launched after a successful test with AvantGo last year, Collins said. Ads for the 2001 C-Class sedan garnered 15,000 responses in one week. "From the number of hand-raisers and e-mail addresses we obtained from that one-week test, we knew that we had hit upon a ... medium that just has fantastic results for us," Collins said.


Mercedes is running a national branding campaign for the C-Coupe on WindWire's wireless network as well as a regional campaign targeting eight cities: New York, Miami, Boston, Washington, San Francisco, Chicago, Atlanta and Philadelphia.


The campaigns include two wireless phone ads and two for PDAs. In one phone ad, users click on the C-Coupe introduction, then are referred to a screen to enter their ZIP code to find the nearest dealer. They can call through to the appropriate dealer with one click.


Another phone ad allows users to call a Mercedes-Benz toll-free number to speak with a customer service representative.


The PDA ads allow users to either enter their e-mail addresses to receive more information or enter the C-Coupe sweepstakes.


Instead of a push campaign, Mercedes-Benz used the WindWire ads to gather e-mail addresses and drive traffic to the C-Coupe site.


"In this case, they didn't have the opt-in base, so they're creating it," said David Wilson, executive vice president at WindWire.


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