Mercedes Parks on Super Bowl Sidelines

Citing the high price tag and few major-model pushes, the high-end automaker is sitting out the big game after its debut last year

Mercedes-Benz won’t be among the auto nameplates returning to the Super Bowl next year. Don’t call the automaker a dissatisfied customer, however. Far from it. The auto brand still benefits from its push around February’s telecast, which averaged about 111 million viewers.

In its debut on the big game [1], Mercedes broke a 60-second ad from Merkley + Partners that celebrated the company’s 125th anniversary and the start of a busy product year. (It had five major relaunches.) It also tacked social media onto its Super Bowl play, growing its Twitter following [2] from zero to 77,000. Its Facebook “likes” have more than quintupled—to about 158,000—and its content on YouTube has generated millions of views. Total sales have risen too, with unit sales through August up 10 percent compared to the same period last year.

The Super Bowl effort “really represented our headlong plunge into embracing social media and what that will mean to the brand. So, to me, that was one of the lasting benefits,” says Steve Cannon, vp of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA. “We just had a great intersection of things that made the Super Bowl as a platform meaningful to us.”

Next year, with just two major model relaunches in the works—and no special anniversary—a return to the game didn’t make sense, says Cannon. He also blanched at the price tag. NBC is charging up to $3.5 million for 30 seconds on next year’s game, up from this year’s top price of $3 million. Just a handful of units remain unsold.

“Everybody [is] clamoring for that inventory and paying crazy premiums,” adds Cannon, who has led Mercedes’ marketing since 2007. “So we just said, ‘You know what? We’re going to watch this one from the sidelines.’”

But Cannon doesn’t view the Super Bowl as a one-off. In fact, he leaves the door open to returning in 2013 when Mercedes plans to introduce a new class of premium small cars. For now, though, he’s focused on new campaigns for the company’s high-volume C-Class and M-Class models, which broke in late August and will continue into November.

The C-Class work, which includes two TV ads, a half-dozen events, and an interactive video called “Coupe It,” plays up the model’s performance and design in a bid to appeal to Gen X and Gen Y. In contrast, ads for the M-Class, which targets fortysomethings with families, tout safety features. Both efforts continue to use a Gottlieb Daimler mantra as a tagline: “The best or nothing.”

The stakes are high for the ads, which come during Mercedes’ version of the two-minute warning: the final months on the calendar. As Cannon explains, “This is where you make your year.”

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