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US:Lincoln Mercury marketers hit the streets,buy coffee, haircuts,and push the Milan

Lincoln Mercury marketers hit the streets, buy coffee, haircuts -- and push the Mercury Milan

LAURA CLARK GEIST | Automotive News

Lincoln Mercury wanted to tell young urban professionals about the new Mercury Milan. So the company hit the streets.

It outfitted teams of twenty- and thirtysomethings in matching shirts and slacks in six big cities. They surprised patrons in coffee shops, restaurants and salons by paying for beverages, appetizers and haircuts. And while they did those favors, they talked about the Milan mid-sized sedan.

"We wanted to create buzz and excitement," Laura Soave Stoppa, marketing manager for the Milan, told Automotive News. Consumers "could talk to someone about the car without the pressure of a dealer showroom."

To encourage visits to Mercury dealerships, the teams distributed certificates for $50 American Express gift cards. Customers could redeem them with a Milan test drive.

Mercury is among a growing list of automakers that use street marketing tactics to raise brand awareness.

The technique, also called guerrilla marketing, is basic. A car company assigns paid product specialists to meet target consumers where they work and play and interest them in its vehicles.

Proponents say street marketing is less expensive and more effective than more passive media, such as TV commercials.

Cost-effective tactic

"For the cost of one $300,000 spot on 'Desperate Housewives,' you could do a pretty major street marketing campaign in five or six markets over two weeks," says Sam Travis Ewen, CEO of Interference Inc., a street marketing company in New York.

"That would include the people, the messaging, innovative outdoor (ads) and the premiums you are giving away," Ewen says.

Other analysts are more cautious. Wes Brown, a partner in the Los Angeles marketing firm Iceology, says effective street marketing must fit a brand's image. He's skeptical the tactic will work for Mercury.

"Who's going to turn down having their coffee or haircut paid for?" Brown says. But he adds: "Doing some unconventional guerrilla marketing lends itself better to a brand going after a younger, edgier person, (such as) Scion, Mazda or VW."

An automaker simply can park or drive its vehicles where target consumers will see them, Brown notes. A street marketing campaign "has to be very transparent so no one feels conned or is forced to feel a certain way," he adds.

Dawn Ahmed, national sales promotion manager of Toyota Division's Scion brand, says she combines street teams with mobile billboards, vehicle exhibits and consumer ride-and-drives. As part of a promotion last spring, the teams passed out key chains, T-shirts and CDs and invited consumers to Scion events.

"I don't think street teams, in and of themselves, are particularly successful when you're trying to build awareness about the product," Ahmed says. But they can help create a strong brand experience in tandem with other media, she says.

Personal touch

From March to June, Scion conducted 20,000 test drives in 50 cities at youth-oriented venues such as record stores. Street teams talked to thousands of other young consumers.

The combined efforts reached 33,000 people, Ahmed says. More than a third of them agreed to be contacted by a Scion dealer, she adds.

Volkswagen of America Inc. used street marketing in its seven-city "Force of Good" tour for the VW New Beetle that ended this month. Street teams distributed city maps and coffee and paid for tolls and parking meters. Team members also donated school supplies to a children's literacy program in Fresno, Calif.

Mazda North American Operations used street teams on its "Hot Streak Tour" to promote the MX-5 Miata this spring.

A firetruck carrying an MX-5 drove around 10 cities, including New York, Los Angeles and Dallas. Street teams passed out T-shirts and met target consumers.

Street marketing faces obstacles, Mercury's Stoppa concedes. They include bad weather, local parking regulations and resistance from some businesses where the teams meet consumers.

And even street marketing can get cluttered. Mercury and Volkswagen teams were both on the streets of Miami on Nov. 4. They didn't encounter each other.

"We're not concerned," Stoppa says. "Milan and Beetle are not going after the same customer."

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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