To many football fans the highlight of Super Bowl XLVII was not the massive but not quite enough comeback of the San Francisco 49ers after a first half from Hades, Beyonce’s galvanizing performance at halftime or even the 34 minutes when the entire country held its breath waiting for the Superdome’s lights to come back on. The favorite part of many viewers’ Super Bowl experience is the commercials, and none were as entertaining, well-conceived and star-studded than Mercedes Benz introduction of their new “economy” $30K CLA Class sedan in what has become known as the Devil Ad.
Defoe’s Dastardly Devil
With The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil playing, a diner in a seedy Nawrleans diner is gazing at workers putting up a CLA billboard across the street. Suddenly, a darkly attired Willem Defoe (in the role he was born to play) is sitting across from him and hands him a gold pen: “Make a deal with me, kid, and you can have the car and everything that goes along with it.” The man now goes through a dream sequence where he pulls up his silver CLA to the red carpet where the luscious Kate Upton is waiting for him, then goes on to dance with Usher, races F1 cars, and generally engages in a series of Walter Mitty adventures. He returns to the diner in time to see the billboard workers putting up the last sheet showing the price at $29,900, and informs Devil-Defoe “Thanks, but I think I got this,” at which point Lucifer’s eyes grow bloody and he vanishes in a puff of black smoke.
CLA Debuts in September
This ad should be the latest commercial to trigger a movie (remember Max Headroom and Ernest?) as Defoe could sear the scenery that the superlative Al Pacino chewed in The Devil’s Advocate. Given the fact that the 90 second ad cost about $10 million just in airtime, the costs of making a feature out of it are not that much higher. The marketing significance of this campaign, however, is the thorough integration of the Mercedes brand into every aspect of Super Bowl visuals. Not only was the game played in what is formally known as the Mercedes Benz Superdome with the famous three pointed star looking down from the hub of the stadium roof, but the CLA was everywhere in The Big Easy prior to the game. From physically parked at the ESPN and GQ pre-game parties to larger than life-sized images emblazoned all over the stadium’s main entrance. This massive media exposure is especially interesting given that the car won’t even be in dealerships for another seven months!
Monumental Advance Awareness Campaign
In the absence of actually having a car available, Mercedes has decided to put all their chips into a monumental marketing effort to build awareness of the launch. The CLA is the first front-wheel drive sedan that Mercedes has sold in the USA in decades and the entire package is designed to appeal to the compact-midsized car buyer who will now be faced with the choice of purchasing a well-optioned Toyota Camry, Honda Accord or Chevy Malibu… or a somewhat similarly equipped CLA for about the same price. Mercedes is betting the Teutonic Ranch that it will be a no-brainer choice for many motorists and that CLAs will therefore sell like beer at a Super Bowl bar party.
We have now reached the age where branding is conducted in the total absence of current product to sell, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Other spectacular commercials for movies such as Iron Man 3 and Star Trek Into Darkness were run in this Super Bowl broadcast although both films are premiering in May. Mercedes has learned that physical products can be marketed in the same way as popcorn movies, with a constant barrage of exposure driving tremendous anticipation many months before the buy date. That is a lesson that many online marketers can also learn and emulate. There is a great value in priming the demand pump long in advance of the debut date, driving your customers into a frenzy of purchasing desire!