In spring of 2006, Mercedes-Benz launches the new generation E-Class into the market. The new model was the beneficiary of the comprehensive technical enhancements and the accompanying communication to re-establish trust in the E-Class, which had suffered from quality issues related to the predecessor model, and a major product recall.
The public relations campaign conducted by Mercedes Car Group and its German public relations firm Oliver Schrott Kommunikation was designed to highlight the innovations of the new E-Class, such as the innovative “Intelligent Light System” and the safety system “PreSafe,” and to support the Mercedes-Benz brand values of safety, comfort, innovation and quality. At the same time, marketing and PR activities were targeted to restore the battered trust in the model series.
At the beginning of the year, DaimlerChrysler had asked partner agencies to develop novel communication measures for the E-Class, exceeding the usual launch activities for previous new models. In addition to the public relations measures already planned by Oliver Schrott around the world premiere during the New York Auto Show in March and a media presentation for approximately 600 international reporters in Munich in May, the agency developed one of the most spectacular PR events in recent years, targeted to extend the E-Class communication through the entire second half of 2006: The “E-Class Experience Paris–Beijing 2006.”
An unprecedented transcontinental long-distance drive from Paris to Beijing—a total distance of 500,000 kilometers (310,000 miles)—in 33 E-Class saloons with environmentally friendly diesel engines was designed to demonstrate the qualities and core features of the saloon and to showcase them for the media. The concept of the “E-Class Experience” was to generate a maximum number of news and stories in the run-up to and for the duration of the 28 day marathon drive in order to create the widest possible awareness amongst the car affine target groups.
The idea also tied in with the first transcontinental car race in history which started exactly 99 years ago, with care traveling in the opposite direction from Beijing to Paris..
In contrast to the first race, however, the long-distance Paris to Beijing 2006 journey was not about speed. In this marathon, the winners would be the teams with the lowest fuel consumption for each of the five legs and for the entire distance.
Oliver Schrott Kommunikation developed and realized an extreme car marathon through nine countries, two continents and six time zones. The route went through France, Germany, Poland, the Baltic states, Russia, Kazakhstan and China, and touched—in addition to six European states—two important growth markets for Mercedes-Benz.
In order to reach a maximum number of target groups, the team of drivers for the five individual legs—400 participants from 36 countries—consisted not only of 250 journalists, photographers and TV teams, but also select customers, a number of celebrities, taxi drivers, readers of the partnering media as well as a number of Internet users, who had been selected from over 50,000 online applicants on eBay and the website www.e-class-experience.com.
Due to the overwhelming response, Mercedes-Benz had to increase the number of E-Class cars to 36 saloons: 33 E 320 CDI and three E 320 Bluetec with clean diesel technology. The accompanying public relations campaign was split into three phases: the announcement phase (from June 8), the application phase for participants (July 21 to August 20), the teaser phase near the long-distance drive, with detailed information (September and October) and the accompanying tour communication from the start in Paris on October 21 to the finish in Beijing on November 17, the eve of China’s biggest automotive trade fair, the Auto China.
Altogether, 14 individual events with national or international journalists took place in the course of the tour, supported by www.paris-beijing2006.com, a dedicated media website in seven language, also developed by Oliver Schrott Kommunikation, providing background material as well as news and pictures updated on a daily basis.
In order to make direct reports from the tour possible, elaborate logistics were required. An outside broadcasting van with special equipment for video and data transmission via satellite was part of the convoy, which included the 36 E-Class cars and 24 service vehicles.
While media coverage of the E-Class Experience still continues, the Paris to Beijing event became a global media event. The coverage to year end 2006 in print media, on TV and on the Internet reached from America through Europe and South Africa and as far as Asia. In Germany the lead media Auto Bild, auto motor und sport and stern.de created dedicated weblogs with daily reports from the E-Class marathon and received, according to the editors, click rates far beyond the rates for the past web activities of the respective publishing houses. Special Paris-Beijing weblogs were also set up by media in the U.S. and several Asian countries.
The print coverage included contributions by lead media like FAZ, Die Welt, or NZZ, multi-page reports and features in journals and automotive magazines as well as front page stories in major daily papers in China where the sale of the locally produced E-Class has currently started. In the growth markets of Russia and China, where diesel driven passenger cars are not common, the event was the topic of a number of in-depth national TV features.
Participants’ videos have already received over 30,000 clicks. And in December 2006, the Motorpresse Stuttgart published a book on the long-distance drive.
Apart from the quantitative success, the E-Class Experience has become a big qualitative success with continuous positive coverage about the new model. The Washington Post called it the “most ambitious promotion of diesel cars ever,” the web portal autopsies.com praised a “truly once in a lifetime event,” the German Auto Bild spoke of a “masterpiece” and the online edition of the renowned German magazine stern wrote about prejudices about the E-Class being “cleared away.”
The conclusion by Auto Bild: “Mercedes has done it. The Stuttgart company has made the new edition of the Paris-Beijing tour become a full success thus demonstrating the steadfastness of the current E-Class. For Mercedes this means: target even surpassed.”