PR team: In-house
Timescale: August-September 2011
- To sharpen the brand image, appealing to a younger, broader target audience
- To strengthen the brand image in the areas of sport and innovation
- To further push the brand into the world of social media
Strategy and plan
Mercedes-Benz needed a big idea to work across all marketing disciplines, but with positive editorial media coverage at its heart. The in-house PR team came up with the idea to create the world's largest car race, open to anyone around the globe who had a PlayStation 3, a copy of racing game Gran Turismo 5 (GT5) and an internet connection. The PR team worked closely with the in-house marketing team to run the integrated strands of the campaign.
In August 2011, an online national competition was launched. Twenty-four prize draw winners were invited to attend Mercedes-Benz World, where they competed to record the fastest lap times on GT5.
The six fastest gamers got to compete against former Formula 1 driver David Coulthard that afternoon in real-time to see whether real-world or virtual racing was faster. Coulthard drove a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG at Top Gear's test track at Dunsfold, while the six winners competed with him virtually in GT5 'pods' at Mercedes-Benz World. Gamers from around Europe also competed live. TV motorsport presenters Martin Brundle and Jonathan Legard commentated on the action from track side.
The event was streamed live to millions of viewers on a microsite as well as on TopGear.com, Telegraph.co.uk, MensHealth.co.uk and Wired.com.
Journalists were invited to take part in the race, including Men's Health editor-at-large Dan Jones. Jones and Coulthard both wore a heart monitor to show the how the physical stresses of real driving compared with virtual driving. Real driving turned out to be more stressful and faster.
Several other marketing elements ran alongside PR including direct mail and advertising campaigns and data capture.
Measurement and evaluation
The race received more than 20,000 online and print articles including on the BBC and The Daily Telegraph and was covered on BBC Breakfast, BBC World and Sky News. Mercedes-Benz secured a homepage takeover on YouTube just hours before the event took place. More than 24 million impressions were delivered.
The initial competition received more than 2,500 entries. A national direct mail campaign resulted in 268 vehicles ordered by 202 customers. During the campaign period, more than 120,444 people visited the site. On the event day, the Mercedes-Benz UK Passenger Cars homepage benefited from a 65 per cent uplift compared with August's average daily visits. More than 300,000 gamers took part in the event. One in thirty GT5 owners competed online.
SECOND OPINION - ANDREW BAIDEN, GROUP MD, THE RED CONSULTANCY
This was the kind of big idea that, given the scale of the event and the logistics involved, must have set a few PR heart rates racing. And despite all that, they pulled it off in style.
Add David Coulthard to the Mercedes SLS AMG, PlayStation 3, GT5 and Top Gear's famous Dunsfold track and the question would be whether Mercedes came through the messaging as the lead brand. Using one of its former F1 drivers was a smart way to keep the story Mercedes-owned. The story also came through clearly despite the evident complications of running a virtual vs real-life race.
The PR team would have been juggling its involvement in running a UK-led event seamlessly with global news coverage. Achieving 20,000 pieces of coverage including a tie-up with the Telegraph would look good on any client's evaluation sheet.
But, generating car sales aside, the piece de resistance was to get one in 30 PlayStation GT5 owners competing online. This sets a benchmark for future ideas of its kind.