OPINION: Newland on ... Mercedes

The drums seem to have been rolling for an unseemly amount of time, but Campbell Doyle Dye (NOT Testa) has finally delivered its first work.

Those of you who went to the cinema at the weekend may well have witnessed it, but not even noticed. The agency's debut for Mercedes is disguised as a film trailer; clever media planning by BJK&E made it mingle with other trailers, not ads.

The spot trails a fictitious movie called Lucky Star using a slick performance from Benicio Del Toro. He plays a winning gambler, a successful trader and a boyfriend to a beautiful woman. He eludes the authorities, drives the new Mercedes SL 500 and is the kind of movie hero with whom we all wish we had more in common. A convincing Hollywood feel has been lent to the spot through the direction of Michael Mann (Ali, The Insider, Manhunter, Heat).

It is product placement turned on its head. Instead of a Mercedes being placed in a movie, a movie has been placed in an ad for Mercedes (the concept that is said to have snared the interest of Mann, who hasn't directed an ad since the 60s).

The trailer format is smart: it's an innovation, and any new way of talking to consumers is an idea worth investigating. It's also entertaining - viewers won't mind donating 60 seconds to see this drama-rich message from Mercedes. And the movie theme enhances the usual benefits of cinema advertising: the audience is open, relaxed and ready to be entertained.

The ad speaks for both the Mercedes brand and the SL. In promoting its expensive marque Mercedes the brand is reminding consumers of its luxury. It's a welcome change in direction: if you cast your mind back you might remember Mercedes' recent spots which have dwelled on the breadth of its range. Images of silver people carriers dominate. This time round Mercedes is remembering that it is one of the world's slickest, most desirable and recognised brands.

The "star in Lucky Star is a reference to Mercedes' three-pronged logo.

In using the uber-cool Del Toro, whose fantastic lifestyle is the product of good luck, the brand has managed to skirt any association of an expensive car with a rich wanker. He's got where he's got through good luck - it could happen to anyone. It's an approachable message despite the fact it's for a car with an unapproachable price tag (from £69,000).

There is a risk that consumers won't get it. It's a fast-moving spot that demands concentration. Freud is handling the PR for the ad launch, and the successful communication that the spot is for Mercedes, and not for a movie, is crucial - not only to build hype, but also to prevent the public from feeling duped by a trick in media strategy.

The ad only pretended to be a movie trailer for the weekend. Now it stands alone as a tense piece of film in which a hero owns a very desirable Mercedes.

It's not the kind of ad consumers are used to; it's close to subliminal. There's no sell just the subtle juxtaposition of a desirable lifestyle with a desirable car (although the amount of scenes in which the car appears smells like the client feared an overly subtle link).

Nevertheless, the spot contains the eerie magic Walter Campbell is good at - there's something of the Dunlop "unexpected in there. TV viewers are likely to be captivated and bemused. The fact that the trailer refers to a bigger story - what would be the feature film - leaves room for people's imaginations to ponder a fuller plot. The mystery in the piece will make some consumers reflect on the ad, and others shrug it off.

It's a slick production, worthy of the Mercedes brand.

- Matthew Cowen is away.

Dead cert for a Pencil? Either that or an Oscar.
File under ... I for intriguing.
What would the chairman's wife say? Was that one of those short films
for BMW I keep hearing about?


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