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Storytelling In The News: #98

Mercedes campaign features stories

March 24, 2004

Mercedes' new ad campaign doesn't use beautiful shots of cars racing down a winding road or exalt the latest lease offer. It doesn't even show new products. Instead, Mercedes-Benz is turning to that age-old communication device - the story. The campaign, starting next Monday, uses photos sent in by Mercedes-Benz owners and short vignettes of real drivers

Created by Merkley & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group, the campaign, under the tagline "Unlike Any Other," features three television commercials and their two-dimensional print counterparts.

One ad, called "Faithful Vignettes," features short clips of people with compelling stories to tell about their cars. The ad quickly moves from a veterinarian and scientist in Africa and his 22-year-old G-Class S.U.V. to a family that survived a head-on collision in a 2003 E320. It ends with a couple that have driven their 1970 280SE more than a million miles.

The other two ads tell the story in pictures, "Framed Portraits" and "Multiple Portraits," feature dozens of photos of owners who responded to a newspaper ad Mercedes placed in February asking for photos they had taken with their cars. Mercedes ended up with more than 1,000 photos from consumers. "Framed Portraits" is set to a slow ballad sung by the relatively unknown singer Mozella. The ad ends with the words: "The love never fades." "Multiple Portraits" is set to much faster paced techno-music and ends with the words "No one every poses with their toaster."

Mercedes' reflective "soft sell" ads come at a time of intense competition in the luxury automobile market. In 2003, Mercedes was within a few thousand units of being overtaken by General Motors' emboldened Cadillac brand for the No. 3 spot in the luxury segment behind Lexus and BMW. Sales of Infiniti, meanwhile, grew 35 percent last year, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank, to 118,655 units on the strength of its new G35 sedan and coupe. Mercedes sales were up 9.6 percent in 2003, to 218,717 units.

Mercedes is also battling a blow to its once-sterling reputation in quality and reliability. Mercedes has been plagued by quality problems that not only knocked it off the top of a J. D. Power initial quality rating last year, but also pushed it down to No. 15, which is just above the industry average. Earlier this year, the influential Consumer Reports' annual auto issue ranked Mercedes, along with BMW, Volvo, Jaguar and Audi, below average for reliability.

"The reputation of the Mercedes brand has bought them some time to address the quality problems," said Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates, an automotive research firm in Rutherford, N.J. in the New York Times. "They seem to be stepping up to the issues. So I haven't scaled back my estimates for Mercedes sales in 2004."

While the new campaign does not directly address the brand's reliability and quality concerns, it draws heavily on Mercedes' traditional reputation for durability. Many of the cars featured in the photographs are decades old.

"Our authenticity, our heritage and the pride people have in Mercedes, those are all huge comparative advantages for us," Ms. Cervantez said in the New York Times. She once oversaw the Lincoln and Jaguar brands at the Ford Motor Company before joining Mercedes in March 2003.

The stories in the ads try to draw on the Mercedes heritage.

Read The New York Times

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