MERCEDES BENZ: LOOKING FOR ANSWERS You probably would agree with Janis Joplin when she sings

, “Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz.” Certainly Mercedes hopes so. With a sales goal of over 125,000 cars in the United States by 2000, the luxury car maker has to motivate a lot of customers to buy a Mercedes without waiting for divine intervention. Mercedes’ sales peaked in the United States in 1986 at 99,314 cars and slid to 61,899 in 1993. Many factors such as the economy, competition from other luxury cars (introduction of the Lexus and Infiniti), and changes in consumer attitudes have contributed to the loss of sales. To determine why sales were down, Mercedes Benz conducted attitudinal research. It used a series of focus groups and dealer showroom interviews to gather consumer feedback. The good news from the research was that the well-known Mercedes tagline—”Engineered like no other car in the world”—worked for consumers. Customers applauded Mercedes for its quality, engineering, and integrity. The bad news was that they didn’t like Mercedes’ aloofness, its distance from buyers. With this research in hand, Mercedes set out to reposition its cars, to convince customers that Mercedes means fun as well as quality. The target market is baby boomers—individuals in their mid to late thirties, forties, and early fifties. This is the single largest age group in the market and people in this age range have achieved the financial success necessary to buy a Mercedes. Reaching baby boomers is not easy, however. “There’s a general shift going on in the luxury segment,” says Mike Jackson, executive vice president of marketing. “Baby Boomers, by definition, are very young-minded. To keep your relevancy you must connect with them on an emotional level.” The key phrase here is “emotional level.” The purchase of a Mercedes is not driven by rational motives; it’s driven by emotion—strong feelings about the car. People must want to buy a Mercedes. Mercedes upped the emotional level when it launched its E-class car using the concept of fun. Having fun produces strong positive emotions. To inject its promotional campaign with fun, the company used a tongue-in-cheek TV spot that shows a driver passing supermodel Paulina, space aliens, and Ed McMahon with a $10 million check without stopping. The car was so much fun to yuhn drive, they didn’t need to stop. To appeal to older baby boomers, Mercedes used the song by Janis Joplin, who symbolizes the hippie lifestyle associated by baby boomers with their youth. For these consumers, Janis Joplin has always evoked strong emotions. Other promotions by Mercedes include the introduction of a Website, direct mail to 300,000 current and prospective Mercedes owners, and airplay in theaters for one of its new TV spots. The company will sponsor an Elton John concert in New York to showcase the E-class among younger consumers and will pay $40 million to sponsor the tennis ATP Tour, in which the Mercedes’ logo will be emblazoned on the tennis net itself during telecasts. In December 1995, the company teamed with publisher Hachette Filipacchi to produce Mercedes Momentum, a magazine that is distributed to 500,000 dealers and Hachette subscribers. This lifestyle publication carries stories on everything from cigars and wine to ultramarathoners and New England fishermen. Of course, it also provides details on Mercedes models amid the feature articles. “Rather than doing a car book, we decided to focus on lifestyle,” says Al Weiss, director of national marketing communications. By featuring Mercedes as part of the lifestyle of baby boomers—actual or desired—the magazine also increases the emotional attachment to Mercedes. Although all these efforts seem intuitively to be on target, it’s the job of Bob Baxter, director of marketing research, to assess how successful each is. Baxter’s staff regularly collects information about the economy, the auto industry, and Mercedes in particular. In addition, a staff of trained telephone interviewers can quickly conduct nationwide surveys of customers, dealers, and sales

using the right technique. Focus groups are usually exploratory in nature. Research usually aims to answer a specific question. Given all the recent Mercedes promotional efforts. Although Baxter could have his staff conduct focus groups to gauge the impact of the ads. and evaluation of an ad campaign is primary research which falls in the problem-solving. this technique would not be particularly appropriate. Questions for Discussion Develop a descriptive research plan for evaluating each of the following: • • • • • • Consumer reaction to the Janis Joplin advertisement. If six separate pieces of research produce the same result. with the right group of people. The Mercedes Momentum targets both groups. Success of the Mercedes Website. marketing research should also be representative. For example. For example. and his crew of statistical experts analyze the data produced. It is important to gather market research information from a number of sources to help establish its validity.personnel. then it must be valid. Audience response to Mercedes Momentum. whereas the Janis Joplin ads and the Elton John concert are aimed at an older audience. Consumer reaction to the “fun” ad for the E-class auto launch. the goal of E-class advertising is to change the way target consumers think about Mercedes. and if the same research done over and over produces the same result. Other interviewers can conduct in-showroom and focus group interviews. they have lots of issues to research. E-class research seeks to answer questions about changing consumer image perceptions. Baxter’s staff also conducts written surveys. Besides being valid and reliable. Audience response to the Elton John concert in New York. the fun emphasis of advertising for the E-class car is aimed at the under-40 market. This means that the right sample should be selected. . the returns are worth every penny. it must be reliable. The research can be costly. Consumer attitudes toward sponsorship of professional tennis. Good research requires a thorough understanding of marketing program goals. For each marketing research effort. One way to find out if the advertising worked is to interview viewers of the ads. but to Baxter’s way of thinking. Baxter and his staff have to make sure that they are researching the right question. Thus. Research must distinguish among the opinions and attitudes of these different segments. decision-making arena.

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