The Rolling Stones' North American tour offers an unusual opening act: the Mercedes R class.
Mercedes-Benz USA LLC is parking several Grand Sports Tourer crossovers at the main entrance of every venue on the rock group's tour schedule. Mercedes is sponsoring the concert tour, called "A Bigger Bang" - its first such marketing tie-in.
Mick Jagger and other band members have appeared in print ads for the R class. But they aren't doing TV commercials.
"The only way we use the Stones is at the dealership - all the point-of-purchase sales material, and to announce events," says Scott Keogh, Mercedes' general manager of marketing communications.
"We have uniquely tied in the R class with the Stones to say, 'Hey, come on down to the dealership,' " Keogh told Automotive News. "We have nothing planned beyond that, but let's see how it goes."
Keogh would not say what Mercedes is paying for the sponsorship.
Mercedes says the audience for Rolling Stones concerts mirrors the target market for the R class: affluent baby boomers with disposable income.
"Tickets are quite expensive," says Carol Goll, Mercedes' general manager of brand events marketing. "For good seats in a major market, you are paying about $400. The cheap seats are about $300, and they sell out every venue night after night."
The R class isn't cheap, either. The base price of a 2006 R350 is $48,775. The R500 is priced at $56,275. Both prices include shipping.
A customized R class that is part of the Mercedes promotion features the Rolling Stones' autographs. The band's lips-and-tongue logo is embroidered into the vehicle's seats.
"I don't want to say it's pimped out," Goll says. "But it is a show car to raise money for charity." An auction of the vehicle will benefit Big Brothers Big Sisters programs.
The tour was in Fresno, Calif., on Nov. 20.
Scott Biehl, general manager of Mercedes-Benz of Fresno, says he was almost as excited by concertgoers' response to the R-class vehicles on display as he was by the show.
"The vehicles were unlocked and the doors were open," Biehl says. "People were crawling in and out of the car."
Biehl says he is running print ads for his dealership that tie into the concert, in an effort to attract showroom traffic.
The "A Bigger Bang" tour began in August. It is scheduled to conclude in March after 55 concerts in the United States and Canada.
After that, the Rolling Stones will tour in Europe. A Mercedes promotion called "RocktheR" includes a grand prize of a trip for two to Europe to attend the opening concert.
Contestants can enter the sweepstakes at mbusa.com.