DETROIT -- The Bentley Bentayga has received the Rick Ross seal of approval.
An online video that emerged in January shows the braggadocious rapper, who routinely flaunts his Bentley fleet on social media, doing a walkaround of the brand's first utility vehicle. The video circulated on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, generating a surge of free publicity for the Bentayga months before its U.S. debut.
A Bentley spokesperson said Ross has put a down payment on the vehicle, which surely will be a frequent guest on his various social media accounts that have amassed millions of followers.
Bentley welcomes the exposure provided by its celebrity clientele. The exclusive brand doesn't drop cash on traditional TV advertising, so grabbing attention through social media is an essential piece of its marketing strategy.
The Bentayga -- with a top speed of 187 mph and a base price of $229,100 before shipping -- is scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in April or May.
Michael Winkler, who runs Bentley's Americas operation as CEO of Bentley Motors Inc., spoke about the brand's marketing philosophy with Staff Reporter Vince Bond Jr. in January at a new showroom in suburban Detroit, where Bentley later treated prospective buyers to a sneak peek at the Bentayga.
Q: How is Bentley going to promote the Bentayga?
A: The big part is the experiential part of the marketing experience and marketing mix. You've got to get someone to drive and experience the car. Most other competitors, as far as they exist in the price segment we're dealing with, are really more about being chauffeured, whereas a Bentley is ... a car where you want to drive yourself. You want to feel it and have that ambience around you while you're behind the wheel.
What type of story does Bentley want to tell with the Bentayga?
In a nutshell, it's the fastest SUV in the true luxury segment. There are a lot of good SUVs out there, a lot of good premium SUVs out there, but there just isn't a luxury SUV out there yet.
Do you feel there was a real thirst for a high-performance SUV in this segment?
It didn’t exist, as the first thing. The second thing is it’s the fastest-growing segment still. What better place for a brand like Bentley to go position themselves?
How do you feel when you see celebrities driving your vehicles and getting publicity?
If we can help them get more publicity, that's great (laughs). It is a compliment, obviously, when you see celebrities driving your brand. Particularly because in contrast to other high-line, premium brands, we don't have to give the cars away. They actually buy them. That is a real compliment and I think very positive for the brand.
It seems like Bentley gets so much free exposure. Over the years on "MTV Cribs," it seemed like every athlete had one.
It's 99.9 percent positive. But then the odd guy who puts purple stripes with fire blowing out the side and 30-inch wheels on the things -- maybe you don't want that so much. It is a huge compliment that high-profile people want to drive this brand and do so with their own money.
Why did Bentley decide against appearing at U.S. auto shows this year?
It's not a decision against. At the end of the day, we're a very small and exclusive manufacturer. If Santa Claus existed, you'd ask for everything. Life isn't like that; sometimes, you have to make choices. What we've decided is that given the mix of activities we've undertaken in the last three to five years, we need to reinvest a little more into the experiential side of marketing. Therefore, we had to make a choice.
In New York [last year], instead of being at the show, we rented a very exclusive retail environment in SoHo and did a one-on-one showing of a concept car we had. ... It was very successful; it worked very well. Maybe it was a thought starter, too, to say maybe we can do things a little differently rather than being a small manufacturer and get lost at a huge auto show amongst all the other millions of dollars that are being spent.
When you host those smaller events, are visitors taking pictures for social media and building excitement that way?
New York was a good example. At least five customers, or spouses of customers, are now claiming they should be on our payroll because of what they did with social media. It's positive; it works very well.
How much do you think social media exposure is worth if you could put a number on it?
Whatever I'd tell you would be way off the mark. I wouldn't be able to put a number on it. What I do know is if you don't address it, you're dead. I will say that.
Is there a marketing slogan attached to the Bentayga?
As an association with the brand, one of the launch strategies that we [had was] before the car was shown at the Frankfurt motor show last September.
We did a light show in cities around the world that started in London and then went east, went around the world through Asia and ended up in Los Angeles and then in New York. All that happened was that almost like the Batman thing that goes into the sky, it read in the sky, #BeExtraordinary.
The intent was to get people to get on their [mobile device] and type in #BeExtraordinary [on social media platforms], and then it would take them to a Bentley Bentayga interactive website. That was before the car was shown officially. That as a mantra for the brand is as close to a slogan, even though I would never use that word "slogan" (laughs). It's our positioning.