The last thing any car owner wants to think about is crashing. However, in the below TV commercial we have a $30,000 car crashing through multiple panes of glass-like material — these panes being metaphors of the many innovative "breakthroughs" Mercedes Benz has achieved — the final pane being the low price (for this brand) breakthrough climax of the car being advertised.
Sounds reasonable. Looks dramatic. But does it do the job of communicating the desired message of premium luxury with outstanding innovations being available at a lower price?
Very poorly, in my opinion, and only at the end of the ad. There's just too much going on: Jon Hamm's voice-over (bringing to mind the character of Mad Men's, Donald Draper), splintering "breakthrough" panes and accompanying sound effects, difficult to distinguish images on the panes, changing angles of the car as it speeds forward to no specific destination, thundering background music, and of course, the requisite menacing dark mountains.
Sure, the ad presents a dramatic lead-up to the low-price message, but are the first twenty seven seconds just meaningless noise? Why not talk about what makes this car a good buy at $30,000? Or why I should choose Mercedes Benz over its rival, BMW? You know, address the real questions interested viewers would have in mind. Do potential Mercedes Benz buyers really think about past innovations while looking at a television ad? I'd think that the first thoughts of anyone considering a Mercedes would be all about self-image.
In another ad that came out earlier this year (see here), Hamm was again speaking about innovative breakthroughs, this time, as a black SUV turned white while crashing through a bizarre looking concrete wall.
Given the two crashing ad executions, it stands to reason that Mercedes Benz is campaigning the concept as an innovative breakthrough metaphor. But why this crashing through things visual?
I'm thinking that, in the minds of the target audience — and setting aside the thought of physical damage the vehicle would sustain — an automobile crashing through something is not going to be received as a metaphor expressing luxury and status innovations. And does it represent the Mercedes Benz brand? Is it the only way that Mercedes Benz can now get people excited about their product?
Innovation is typically perceived as something that greatly improves our daily lifestyle, and not just a number of check marks on a technician's list. Or, as presented in the ads, images being shattered as a vehicle crashes through them.
Furthermore, although Mercedes Benz has an outstanding resume of automobile innovations, the details of these innovations are not what consumers are contemplating when considering the brand. More general and personal thoughts on status, design, quality, luxury and price are what immediately come to mind — with aspiration being the main motivator driving the consumer's purchase decision.
Does the image of a black-to-white SUV crashing through a bizarre looking wall evoke these sentiments? Or a fast moving car crashing through glass-like panes of images?
What were they thinking? I understand that we live in a world of Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty video games, but crashing through things does not exemplify the brand's well established reputation, nor its current "Best or Nothing" slogan. This is simply trendy (and gimmicky) Hollywood-style computer generated imagery taking the place of proper, well-thought-out and executed ad creative?
The last few years have seen Mercedes Benz loosing significant market share to BMW and Audi. This perfect storm has been gathering for some time, and it's going to be interesting to see how marketing efforts for these three competing brands unfold over the next few years.
The crashing metaphor of "breakthrough" innovation is not going to do the job for Mercedes Benz. The brand needs to get back to its uncompromising classic status roots and give the aspiring-to-own-excellence consumer tangible messaging to buy into.
(Joseph Steel, Let's Talk Advertising, c. 2014.