Behind Mercedes' Super Bowl ad strategy

December, 19, 2012
12/19/12
11:37
AM ET
Kate Upton in a Mercedes-Benz Super Bowl adMercedes-Benz Supermodel Kate Upton is in the Mercedes-Benz Super Bowl ad -- but no, that's not Usher.
Despite the high price of advertising time and the high product price point, car brands are finding it worthwhile to advertise in the Super Bowl.

Last year, Honda and Acura spent some big money, not only buying the ads, but using Matthew Broderick and Jerry Seinfeld to attract greater attention.

That car brands think the Super Bowl is worth it isn't all that interesting. What is? The fact that many car brands are trying to accomplish the same thing: lowering the age of their consumer.

Earlier this month, I wrote about how Lincoln would be using the Super Bowl to completely overhaul its brand, which at 60 had the highest average for a car buyer in the industry.

To reach younger car buyers and get people to switch to its brand, Lincoln will roll out a stylish sedan called the Lincoln MKZ, at a low luxury entry point of $36,000.

Now Mercedes-Benz is joining them in the game, unveiling its new CLA, a compact sedan that, at around $30,000, will be the lowest-priced Mercedes on the market.

While Mercedes doesn't quite share Lincoln's issue -- the company has been working on getting younger since 2007 -- over the past couple years, the brand has seen its average buyer age go from 49 to 52.

"It's all about refreshing the ecosystem at a vibrant entry point," brand CEO Steve Cannon told me. "If you have a limited product line, you age and die out."

Cannon says the company's research shows that 55 percent of Mercedes buyers today are buying new, which means that if he can get a person into a car earlier, he has a better chance to do business for a longer time thanks to the brand's strong loyalty rate.

Cannon admits that you can't just play a normal ad of a car in the Super Bowl. You have to spice it up a bit.

So in the spirit of connecting breakthrough celebrities with the type of young buyer they are looking for, they hired supermodel Kate Upton and Usher.

"If you want to get the younger generation, you are going to have to make a pop culture play," Cannon said. "You can't bring out Clint Eastwood from the Republican convention."

I asked Cannon how many times an ad or a message point has to run in order to sell a $30,000 car.

Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans
Lance King/Icon SMIMercedes-Benz will have its name all over the Superdome-based Super Bowl.
"There are media gurus out there that say you need a certain reach and frequency, like reaching 70 percent of your target audience at least 14 times," Cannon said. "I kind of think that marketing psychology keeps agencies employed. Put simply, you have to find a way to capture the heart of the consumer and find a way to connect to them over and over again. That's one of the reasons why you buy a Super Bowl ad -- because it's not a one-time thing. You can use the ad, and then bring it into the digital and social media space to enhance your message."

Another reason why it makes sense for Mercedes to be in this year's Super Bowl in particular: It has put its name on the Superdome, host of the game.

When Mercedes did the naming-rights deal, I ripped it, believing that New Orleans wasn't the best market to advertise the high-end car brand. Cannon said the company knew that this car, more affordable to that market, was coming at the time it did the deal. I obviously didn't.

Darren Rovell | email

ESPN.com Sports Business reporter

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