Mercedes Benz Could Use An Advertising Jolt

Posted by: David Kiley on January 30, 2006

The Race 2bpg.jpg

The Mercedes-Benz brand still stands for excellence. Make no mistake. But just as the venerable German luxury brand kicks off a barrage of TV and print ads designed to re-engineer its status in the American psyche, it seems pretty clear that it has miles to go before it gets its message right.

There are three new TV ads by agency Merkley+partners,NY heralding the arrival of the new S Class, Mercedes Benz’s flagship sedan. The “Race” (pictured above) is a video postcard from Mercedes’s racing history dating all the way back to an 1894 race near Paris. The black and white ad looks great as it evolves seemlessly to a present day context with today’s Mercedes Benzes zooming around the track. The message, “The race that really matters…the race with ourselves….is never really over” is a good one. The overall impact of the ad, though, is muted. The payoff isn’t strong enough.

The next two ads in the series are downhill from there. “Weld Them” is a series of quick pulsating video cuts of cars being welded, dipped in paint and rust inhibitors, hood ornaments being fastened, etc. The screen copy reads,”What goes into making the best cars in the world? You have no idea.” Huh? What’s the point of this? The continuing tagline is “Mercedes-Benz. Unlike Any Other.” Problem: Anyone in the know about cars and the car business (and these are the people who tend to have influence in their peer groups) knows that Mercedes has been dogged in recent years with quality issues, and that some of the designs and product choices that have come out of Stuttgart, Germany just haven’t made the brand as fashionable, aspirational or relevant as it once was. In short, the sparkle has been off the three-pointed star. An assertion of “…the best cars in the world” strikes me as a bit obnoxious. Ten years ago, when I was working for Mercedes-Benz’s former ad agency, the researchers recognized that the brand had become a bit obnoxious among people the company very much wanted to attract as customers. Ads back then went out of their way, effectively, to make Mercedes more accessible and friendly, but without losing the aspirational character in the brand.

The alchemy of accessible and aspirational is just not right in these spots. The third spot is just a dull series of scenes of a couple driving in the car going through surreal scenes that give the voiceover opportunities for platitudes: “It turns safety into security.” “It turns a glance into a stare.” “It turns the mundane into the magnificent.” Yada Yada Yada. This looks way too much like…well…advertising.

I wish these ads were less mundane and more magnificent.

There is also a barrage of some 60-90 print ads breaking today, which will run throughout the year, meant to re-assert Mercedes’s quality standings in our minds. Mercedes had dropped to 14th from ninth out of 36 brands in J.D. Power’s Initial Quality Study in 2003, but rebounded to No. 5 last year.

Look, the wheels never fell of Mercedes-Benz quality. But when you go around asserting your brand as the best in the world, you set yourself up to be criticized, needled and scoffed at when the company falls down on the job or sends a poor design out of the chute. Mercedes has been dinged in recent years for launching products like the original M-Class SUV, which didn’t measure up as a true Benz, and a C Class coupe that was priced around $25K and reminded few of German excellence.

Only part of Mercedes-Benz’s battle today is improving quality. The latest designs: an all-new M Class; the new S-Class; a new R-Class are all worthy Benzes. The other, in some ways tougher, battle is regaining the fashion appeal, the zip, the pizazz, the brand energy with buyers and prospects. Thats is largely constructed through gaining acceptance and praise for the products, as well as for communications. Clearly, there’s more work to do to catch the marketing communications up with the designs and quality improvements.

Reader Comments

D. Harry

January 31, 2006 2:20 PM

Accessible. Aspirational. Inextricably linking these two qualitiies shouldn't be too difficult. But if the company whose ads try to convey these qualities is looked upon as obnoxious, the task becomes a little tricky.

Still, whatever issues the Mercedes Benz brand must deal with to assume it's former glory may not be all that difficult to accomplish. The brand, afterall, is legendary.

Roger Birchmeier

August 29, 2006 1:43 AM

Good article, but I think the day of Benz is over. After owning a 2001 and the huge loss and stress I had over owing that auto, I do not think Benz will ever get the quality confidence back. Myself and several friends, have worked hard all our lives to aford the finer things and several of us bought brand new lemons. My auto was in the shop 11 months out of the 16 months I owned it. Towards the end, the dealer refused to even try to fix it any longer. Corporate USA Benz, refused to help me, and told me to sell it because I had made a bad purchase. Benz corp had the nerve to tell me this. NEVER AGAIN. Pure junk and lack of responsibility for buidling it.
Roger Birchmeier


November 11, 2006 5:58 PM

Mr. Zetsche brings back the old days. Benz is the only answer when we are talking about automobiles.


July 11, 2007 11:05 PM

The day of the Benz will never be over because in essence yesterday they were great reliable cars today they aren't but tomorrow they can redeem themselves.

Wayne T. Howard

February 19, 2008 12:54 PM

I have a great slogan for Mercedes Benz. I just don't know who does the advertising for Mercedes Benz.BMW has a slogan, I think that Mercedes Benz should have the greatest slogan to go with the greatest line of popular cars.


August 7, 2008 3:01 PM

Have any other Mercedes-Benz customers had problems with the 2006 Mercedes-Benz ML350?? We purchased a new on on Dec-22-05, and it basically blew up on Jun-9-07!! It had less than 50,000 miles, and Mercedes-Benz would not and has not honored the warranty!! They even wanted us to pay for the diagnosis of the problem!!

Any other dissatisfied customers? Is the "brand" still valid, or is Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC living off the "hype!"


September 13, 2008 4:28 PM

the quality issue isn't an issue anymore and mercedes-benz has made the star shine bright again. these are truly magnificent and legendary machines, no doubt about it .


February 2, 2009 3:02 PM

The M. Garcia follow up in September seems to be someone who works for Mercedes Benz given the way the response was formulated.

The fact is that I have owned 7 Mercedes cars since 1984 and in recent times the service has gone down the tubes. This is especially from Mercedes Benz USA corp. They seem to try and side step many warranty issues and don't really give a dam about their customer any more.

I currently own a 2005 C240 wagon that was Brand New with 80 miles on it and they are now telling me that the warranty started 11 months before I bought the car because it was put in service. What that means I don't know since not even the folks at the dealer know what the heck is going on.

My guess is buy a BMW or Audi instead.


August 28, 2009 11:35 AM

There appears to be a reluctance to accept that civil rights as contained in the provisions of the Sale of Goods Acts as amended supercede any rights contained in their warranties and that if the component is not mentioned in the warranty it is not covered..People met with apparent intransigence to repair defects should expore those rights as civil remedies are available when defects are apparent in new or SECOND HAND motot vehicles sold by them
Try the Sale and supply of goods to consumer regs 2002 too for guidance and seek advice from your local Trading Standards Officers

the stig

October 1, 2009 5:49 AM

i like the racing, although I could go faster...

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News, opinions, inflammatory meanderings and occasional ravings about the world of advertising, marketing and media. By marketing editor Burt Helm, Innovation Editor Helen Walters, and senior correspondent Michael Arndt.

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