DAIMLER-BENZ sent a new message to US consumers when it introduced its American-made sport-utility vehicle, the M-class, last year. The product introduction became a symbol of the company's culture shift.
The M-class was just one of many Mercedes cars sent to market last year with more power and lower prices, aimed at a younger clientele.
This year, Daimler-Benz is putting the M-class in European showrooms, and with it the updated brand image that the car symbolizes.
Print ads are running all over Europe. Magazine ads show the M-class traveling over rocky terrain with a pack of wolves and office buildings in the background.
The headline is 'One breakdown and you miss your dinner. Even worse, you might become dinner.' The tagline is 'The M-class. A true off-roader. A true Mercedes.'
The intent of the campaign is to hit on the same concepts using different creative material in each market.
Still, Mercedes is holding back on advertising. It fears that its new plant in Alabama won't be able to meet initial worldwide demand.
The introduction was quick and painless in the USA.
As Mercedes-Benz of North America began to increase its promotional activities and run the TV spots for the ML320's debut last fall, it was already having an excellent sales year. Sales of several Mercedes models had been running high all year. That gave the company a certain impetus to roll out the sport-utility in an atmosphere of success.
But in the early days of the ML320 project, success was hardly a foregone conclusion.
The question from inside and outside the company was this: Would brand equity be diluted by introducing a vehicle that is not a car, that is priced close to that of the mass-selling Jeep Grand Cherokee, and that is intended to draw a new, younger customer base into the Mercedes family.
The answer became clear as customers put their names on waiting lists. The customers wanted more Mercedes products, not more Mercedes exclusivity.
Now the question is not so much how Mercedes-Benz can cautiously roll out its new brand identity in France, South Africa, Japan and Yemen. The question is how fast the company can deliver the vehicles.
'The expectation is very high. We've been getting orders from markets that haven't seen the vehicle yet,' said M-class Product Manager Reinhard Muenster in Stuttgart. 'The M-class is part of a new aspect for the Mercedes brand overall.'