The company has created a microsite that features virtual versions of the cars. The company last week dropped direct mail pieces to consumers who signed up for information on the car at MBUSA.com. The pieces feature 3D effect photos of the new car zooming down a city turnpike, and the tagline "There's more to C."
The care also invites recipients to "Join us for an exhilarating ride. Online" at MBUSA.com/MoreToC.
The site includes 360-degree views of the car, images, footage of the vehicle driving, and vehicles specs.
The company in late month launched the vehicle in Europe with a campaign via BBDO, France that uses a similar play on words, "C-for Yourself," and includes TV, events, and a presence in the virtual world Second Life.
Rob Allan, who oversees the C-Class model line, says the "More to C" microsite has done far better than a similar effort last year for the new S-Class car, which the company regarded as a success. "It has garnered seven times the response rate and interest than we got on the S-Class," he says.
Wes Brown, automotive consultant with IceOlogy, Los Angeles, says Mercedes' efforts to move its brand image from staid to high-performing, high-tech and design forward is a work in progress whose success rests squarely on the C-Class. The car, he says, is critical in Mercedes' efforts to reach the kinds of performance-oriented, younger luxury buyers who make cars like the BMW 3-Series, and Infiniti G35 hot sellers.
"They have been able to shift he image of the brand, and arguably it was product-driven more than anything," he says. "We are encouraged by the [C-Class], but the marketing will have to take on the car's characteristics. If the marketing matches the product and pricing is competitive, this will be an out-of-the-park grand slam."
The median age of people who bought a Mercedes C-Class in the first quarter this year was 47, according to data gleaned from J.D. Power & Associates Power Information Network, which parses dealership sales from around the country. By contrast, the average age of a buyer of BMW's 3-Series cars was 42, while Lexus' buyers for the IS averaged 41 years of age. The compact premium category average age is 45, per the consultancy.
Allan says the two C-Class models are each aimed at different customers. The C-Class sports sedan, which he predicts will represent about 70% of overall C-Class volume, is geared to younger, performance-driving enthusiasts. It looks markedly different than its sibling. With styling suggestive of Mercedes AMG performance sub-brand, 17-inch alloy wheels, a more aggressive stance and grill, the car looks like a younger sibling of the S-Class sedan launched last year. "We are targeting a 40-year-old buyer, new to Mercedes Benz, and much more interested in driving and performance, who is likely coming out of Asian cars," says Allan.
The other C-Class car is the more traditional version, which Allan says will appeal to a somewhat older, pure luxury-oriented buyer. Advertising and media for the two vehicles will reflect each version's audience, the two will also appear side-by-side in print ads.
He points out that the C Class sports sedan, which first appeared in the U.S. five years ago, has nudged Mercedes' median age for the C-Class lower. "The sports sedan has moved the needle but it didn't benefit from a significant product differentiation," he says.
Allan says the C-Class vehicles, though the least expensive models in Mercedes lineup, are perhaps the most critical to attracting new customers. "The C-Class is a huge contributor to Mercedes' brand image, because it's our entry point. It is often the first car considered by anyone interested in Mercedes," he says, adding that the entry-level luxury model is also the place at which a person is making choice that transcends only that car: it's also which brand he or she is likely to stick with for years to come. "This is the critical juncture."