Mercedes Takes Product Tour to Third-Party Site

The product tour has become a staple of manufacturers’ Web sites, especially for automotive marketers. Mercedes-Benz has taken that idea and transplanted it to a third-party site for the launch of its R-Class wagons.

“We’re really looking for that late-forming family boomer audience and empty nesters,” said Liz Birenbaum, supervisor of Internet marketing at Mercedes. “They’re tired of their minivan and tired of their SUV.”

Using a proprietary ad unit known as the SAM — for sequential animated media — the carmaker is running a series of ad units on Edmunds.com that effectively escorts users deeper into the purchase funnel. When a user visits certain pages on Edmunds, she encounters the first ad, which is tailored to the particular location. A person on the luxury category page would receive creative aimed at luxury car aficionados.

When the ad loads, a spokesman steps out of the creative onto the page, talking up the car’s merits and bringing the vehicle out of the ad with him. Consumers are then invited to “follow” him on the tour. Clicking takes them to Edmund’s vehicle page for the R-Class model, where the spokesman continues his pitch. From there, consumers can click on the ad and go to Mercedes’ R-Class microsite. The strategy and creative were created by Critical Mass, Mercedes-Benz USA’s interactive agency.

“We knew the R-Class deserved a whole new type of Internet marketing,” said Birenbaum. “It’s a highly educated, Internet-savvy target audience. We wanted to make sure that we took advantage of this and put together a really big bang, so to speak.”

The company says it’s tracking CTRs (define) by point of entry into the experience and looking at exactly how long consumers continue to follow the tour and what paths they take through the experience.

Other creative units will appear on car sites for in-market users, including kbb.com, MSN.com, and cars.com. Lifestyle sites such as ESPN.com, nationalgeographic.com, and CondéNet are also part of the buy.

Because Mercedes believes the R-Class buyer is particularly Internet-savvy, the company has involved the online audience in all of its development stages. In January 2004, the company launched a dedicated Web site and began collecting email addresses of prospective buyers. It later updated content to include photos, videos, and a build-your-own capability as the product moved toward launch. The microsite has attracted 2.2 million unique users, 100,000 of which submitted their email addresses.

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