NEW YORK - Badness isn't usually a word that comes to mind when you think of Mercedes.
But a new TV commercial for the CLK430 tries to portray badness as synonymous with the car's image. It shows 10 CLK430s menacing a mean-looking motorcycle couple. The word badness appears at the end of the commercial, a technique Mercedes first used in brand ads in early 1997.
Mercedes is trying to retain the excitement and feel of its past brand advertising, while expanding the brand's image and, for the first time, to focus on caring employees.
'We have a very diverse audience and we are very multifaceted, which is difficult to communicate,' said Joe Eberhardt, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA Inc. 'We have very professional and caring people, and we haven't focused on that in the past.'
Two of 10 new TV commercials feature Mercedes employees. A third, although it touts safety, shows some historical footage of Mercedes staff with the innovations.
The large body of new ads and huge media buy represent Mercedes' most ambitious ad campaign ever, CEO Mike Jackson said during an interview here.
'We had to exercise restraint' on media buys before now to save for the big push, he said, declining to reveal spending.
The TV buy is heavy in national cable TV, including ESPN's 'SportsCenter' and its Major League Baseball and college football broadcasts, CNN's 'Evans & Novak,' A&E's 'Biography,' AMC's 'Director's Showcase,' CNBC's 'The Edge,' plus Discovery, The Learning Channel and Bravo.
The network TV buy is limited to select markets and includes buys on NBC's 'ER' and 'Law & Order,' as well as ABC's 'Monday Night Football' and Fox's 'Ally McBeal.'
The campaign marks the first work from Mercedes' new ad agency, Merkley Newman Harty in New York. Seven of 10 planned spots are done. Most retain the carmaker's tongue-in-cheek humor.
One commercial shows employees in business suits testing vehicles. But the tests are done without vehicles. It shows a man leaning at an angle in a wind tunnel, another with a helmet crashing into a wall and a woman running a coned slalom course in heels.
'The qualities you expect from our cars, you can expect from our people,' the narrator says at the end.
Merkley plans to develop 14 print ads, the first of which arrives in October. The print buy includes Business Week, Barron's, Fortune, Forbes, Food & Wine, Fast Company, Architectural Digest, Time and Inc.
Most of the commercials don't name specific models. Mercedes wants to create consideration for the Mercedes brand, not an individual model, Jackson said.
Mercedes will spend an estimated $55 million in media between now and year end. That represents the carmaker's biggest media expenditure during a 31/2 month period.
'We're raising the flag on the Mercedes experience and broadening our message to include this experience,' he said. 'We haven't forgotten it's all about product, product, product.'
So far, Merkley has created two commercials dedicated to an individual vehicle.
The commercial for the new ML55 breaks in November. It touts the vehicle as the fastest sport-utility on earth. It shows five muscular men launching themselves in a giant slingshot. 'Never before have five people gone from 0 to 60 so quickly,' the narrator says.
The first spot, which broke Sept. 13, 'tries to introduce the notion that Mercedes is unique,' said Alexander Gellert, a partner at Merkley.
It shows well-known people, but each with something slightly askew. For example, the late actor Telly Savalas, who was bald, is seen in his 'Kojak' TV role with hair. It ends with the words 'Change one thing and it's just not the same. But when every part is just right ... ' followed by a shot of the car, Mercedes' employees and the word 'Magic.'
Separate commercials pitch safety and value, and another touts the TeleAid emergency calling system.
'We are adding new dimensions to the brand,' Jackson said.