Mercedes-Benz Unveils GLK, Outlines Marketing Support

Mercedes-Benz is firing on at least six cylinders in 2008.

Steve Cannon, vice president/marketing at the U.S. sales arm of the German automaker, was on hand at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit to talk about the 2009 GLK, the company's first entry-level luxury crossover unveiled Sunday, as well as the company's green initiatives around both its Bluetec diesel and hybrid powertrains.

The GLK intro event featured "Sex and the City" actress Kim Cattrall. Not happenstance: the car, which goes on sale next year, has a starring role in the film version of the hit show, a venture by HBO and New Line, which premieres in May.

Cannon says initiatives for the forthcoming GLK will begin later this year with PR, promotional initiatives and a "buzz" fleet of vehicles. The company will launch a microsite for the car around the time of the New York International Auto Show in March. The two versions of the vehicle--one a Bluetec version--are near-production concepts, he notes. The production model gets shown at the Beijing auto show.



He says the "S and S" product-placement deal reflects an aggressive film and fashion product-integration program for GLK, and cars like C-class, S-class, both of which were featured in the film "National Treasure."

Mercedes also has sponsorship initiatives around Fashion Week. In New York, the GLK and C-class will be featured at the show.

Cannon says GLK--which is less curvy than many crossovers--is intended to evoke trucks, not cars undergoing mutation. "With GLK, we think we are zigging when everyone else is zagging," says Cannon. "We have leveraged the DNA of our truck heritage--muscular and angular." He adds that the C-Class and GLK represent two entry "gateways" to the Mercedes brand. "It gives us an ability to have a truck entry point to the brand."

The GLK crossover will reside--in auto marketing argot--"below" the company's M-Class SUV. Cannon characterizes both C-Class and the M-Class as the most critical vehicles currently from a volume standpoint. "They are our tent-pole vehicles," he says. "They will get a lot of attention this year." He says the company has seen a 20% jump in M-Class market activity since the October launch of the 2008 model, and has sold 63,000 C-Class vehicles last year.

Also new is a TV spot, via AOR N.Y.-based Merkley and Partners, for Mercedes-Benz's flagship car, the S-Class. The spot, which will have both national and regional elements, breaks next week. The ad touts the car as the choice of world leaders, for its safety and for its status as "legendary." Parenthetically, the ad also debuts the company's new logo in the U.S.: the star is on the upper right quadrant of the screen, and the Mercedes-Benz name is directly below.

Cannon says the ad doubles as a brand spot for Mercedes, since the flagship is a halo for the brand. "We will give S-Class four to five weeks of media," he says.

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