Car companies like Hyundai and Ford have been showing solidarity with consumers recently, running ads promising that the companies will help them should they lose their jobs.
The New York Times, June 18th 2009
Mercedes-Benz USA is trying a different way to get customers to buy cars as it introduces its updated E-Class Series. The ad campaign for the midsize car, available as a sedan or a coupe, is the company’s biggest in two years, estimated at $75 million. It does not talk about great value or good deals. Instead, it focuses on the cars‘ technology and heritage, a somewhat standard approach for the brand.
“Everyone has that trigger that’s going to get them out there in the marketplace again, assuming that they have the means and they’re just choosing not to spend it,” said Alex Gellert, the chief executive of Merkley & Partners, part of the Omnicom Group, which created the Mercedes print and television ads.
The E-Class update is meant to turn around an alarming sales slide for Mercedes, which is owned by Daimler. Its United States sales have declined 28.7 percent this year from the same time in 2008, according to the company. May sales were even further off, falling 33.4 percent from May 2008. The United States turned in the worst showing of any geographic region in May.
Even given the sales challenge, Steve Cannon, the vice president of marketing for Mercedes-Benz USA, decided not to echo the recession-conscious marketing that other car manufacturers have used. Hyundai promised to help customers pay for their cars if they lost their jobs, an offer Ford and General Motors soon matched. A recent spate of ads for Honda‘s Insight described it as “designed and priced for us all.”
“I’d rather tell our brand story, our innovation story, our value story, than join the chorus of everyone else that’s screaming ‘sale’ – that’s about the only message that’s out there right now,” Mr. Cannon said. “Customers have told us, ‘we know there are deals out there,’ so just getting on television with an expensive media plan and shouting, ‘there’s a sale,’ they already know that.”
Although Mercedes wanted to avoid emphasizing sale prices, it did place the starting price for the cars at the end of each television spot and in the print ads. At $48,600, it is almost 9 percent less than the starting price for the last set of E-Class cars, from the 2003 model year. The ads give just the price, though, not the discount. “For Mercedes-Benz customers, $48,600 is a huge value story, and those people know it, so I don’t have to go out and say, ‘value, value’ — that’s not appropriate for our brand,” Mr. Cannon said. “The folks that are looking for a midsize luxury sedan kind of understand the price points.”
For his customers, “I think there’s a level of crisis fatigue and recession fatigue out there, marketing down to, ‘we feel your pain. We’re all in this together,’ versus, ‘this is who we are,’ ” Mr. Cannon said. “All the things that mattered to them before the recession, it still matters to them. But we have to work harder to break through, because the system has been shocked significantly.”