Its marketing budget could barely pay for a handful of its cars, but Bentley's marketers are determined to find a way to better introduce their brand to the elite U.S. car buying public.
Two factors - Bentley's scheduled split from Rolls-Royce in 2002 and the addition of new a Bentley model in the $150,000 to $170,000 range by 2003 - make it especially important for Bentley marketers to get the name in front of consumers who shop the likes of Ferrari, Porsche and the Mercedes-Benz S class.
'We will be single-minded about that Mercedes buyer,' insists Alasdair Stewart, president of Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars Inc. in Auburn Hills, Mich.
'We haven't forgotten about Rolls-Royce,' he says, 'but our big promotional push is Bentley. The marketing challenge is to get people to understand they can drive a Bentley every day.'
Bentley's total marketing budget for 2001 will be a little more than $2 million, nearly the same amount that marketers spent this year. But it's a big deal for Stewart and company because Bentley spent little, if any, money courting U.S. consumers before this year.
'We have a big job to do in this market,' Stewart says. 'There was no trust between the Americans and the English, and the dealers did not trust us.'
Base prices of Bentleys range from $203,800 for the Arnage to $339,900 for the Azure convertible. Through November, only about 29,000 vehicles were sold in this country with price tags over $100,000, and Bentley represented only 483 of those sales. Stewart hopes to raise Bentley sales to about 5,000 in the United States over the next five years, with 70 percent to 80 percent of those transactions coming from the new lower-priced model. That's why the marketing push is beginning now.
Younger and sportier
'So often people compare Bentley with Rolls-Royce,' Stewart says. 'Our challenge is to get it known and split it from Rolls-Royce. We have deliberately tried to go younger and sportier. That's the direction we're pulling Bentley. We want people to learn about the sportiness and sheer power of Bentley.'
Most of the budget will be spent on print advertising created by DDB Worldwide, the agency Bentley hired this year. The ads will emphasize the power and sportiness of the car. Media buys will be placed in upscale magazines such as Town & Country, Coastal Living and Cigar Aficionado, but Stewart says he's eager to find ways to attract more women and younger, affluent consumers. More than 98 percent of Bentley buyers are men. He wants to bring the age down from the current average of 50 to the low 40s.
'We also want advertisers who can bring us events,' Stewart says.
For example, Bentley partnered with Cigar Aficionado at an event that featured cigars, fine whiskeys and ports. The brand also supports about seven charitable events with cash and in-kind donations averaging about $35,000 at each event.
Stewart, who came to Auburn Hills in 1998, also has decentralized and increased the size of the marketing staff. Tree regional offices, each staffed with 10 people, are in New Jersey, Florida and Los Angeles. In each region, a regional marketing manager works with dealers on events and advertising plans. Bentley began providing its 38 dealers with co-op advertising funds this year and will continue next year.
Bentley also will test some affinity marketing, likely in the furniture and boating industry next year. Early in 2001, the brand will debut the Bentley collection - retail items including jackets, champagne cases and crystal. Bentley and its dealers are working with Hollywood stars such as Will Smith to reach out to the entertainment and ethnic minority markets.
'We are increasingly attracting Mercedes buyers,' Stewart says, adding that at least 50 percent of Bentley buyers this year have owned a Mercedes S class.
Bentley's sales are up 32 percent through the 11 months ending Nov. 30, but the small number of units means it's unlikely we'll see a Bentley on a network TV spot anytime soon.
'TV is too broad a medium for Bentley,' Stewart says. 'A 20-second spot on the Super Bowl would be about all we would ever consider,' he says, 'but we're not even considering that at the moment.'