Mercedes-Benz USA put its faith in social media last month by asking the 7 million Facebook fans of tennis star Roger Federer to choose the headline for a new marketing campaign.
It's one way Mercedes is expanding its marketing approach as it launches six vehicles this year.
For a week, Federer's Facebook fans voted on three possible headlines for an ad for the redesigned CLS that features the tennis star. The winner: "The Roger Federer of automobiles meets the Mercedes-Benz of tennis."
The headline will be used in print ads for the CLS starting in June.
"It was completely free -- it cost us absolutely nothing," says Steve Cannon, vice president of marketing. "In the old world, I would have just gone with my favorite."
As it turns out, the fans chose the headline Cannon says he liked best.
The losers were: "Record breakers unite" and "Agility. Style. Power. Roger is no slouch either."
The four-door with coupe styling is a halo car for Mercedes and will be the star of the brand's spring advertising. CLS sales slipped to 2,135 cars last year from a peak of 14,835 in 2005, the year it debuted. The CLS was the first in a new niche of swoopy sedans that includes the Porsche Panamera and Audi A7.
Mercedes will follow the CLS launch this year with a redesigned SLK small coupe/roadster, a redesigned M-class crossover, an all-new C-class coupe, a facelifted C-class sedan and an all-new SLS AMG roadster.
Federer also will be featured in a TV spot for the SLS scheduled to run in late August that coincides with the U.S. Open tennis championship. Mercedes-Benz is a sponsor of the tournament.
Because of the new vehicles, Mercedes-Benz has increased its marketing budget to nearly pre-recession levels -- with an eye at winning the U.S. luxury sales crown.
From January through March, Mercedes-Benz sold 53,346 vehicles compared with 52,616 for BMW and 47,356 for Lexus.
"We are leading the pack for the first time in 11 years in the first quarter," Cannon says.
He says the first quarter success came on the heels of a marketing push that included TV spots during the Super Bowl, Academy Awards and NCAA men's basketball tournament. Mercedes also ran Twitter and Facebook campaigns that coincided with the Super Bowl. Mercedes said the campaigns tripled its followers on the social networks.
Cannon would not disclose how much Mercedes is spending on advertising. But according to Kantar Media, the brand spent $261 million on measured media in 2010 compared with $211 million in 2009 and $273 million in 2008.