SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Mercedes plans road trip for PGA activation

The centerpiece of Mercedes-Benz’s on-site activation at the PGA Championship is hitting the road.

It was during last year’s PGA Championship, as thousands of fans moved through what Mercedes calls its brand experience center on the golf course, that Steve Cannon’s wheels started to turn. Cannon, the automaker’s vice president of marketing, wondered what would happen if they could transform the brand experience center from a huge tent complex at the PGA into a mobile marketing platform for other tournaments and special events.

COURTESY OF MERCEDES-BENZ
The golf performance center will make its debut at Augusta National during the Masters.
The outcome is the Mercedes-Benz golf performance center, which will be unveiled in Augusta during Masters week at a dealership on Washington Road, just a driver and 5-iron from the entrance to Augusta National.

The golf performance center in Augusta will serve as a complement to Mercedes’ status as a global partner to the Masters, a position it has held for the last four years.

Mercedes also is a patron sponsor of the PGA of America and it’s through that relationship that PGA professionals will staff the
performance center and offer tips to the consumers. The automaker became a PGA patron sponsor in 2009 as part of a five-year deal and it has had the on-site activation at the PGA Championship the last two years.

Mercedes also added a patron sponsorship to the British Open last month, giving it a presence at three of golf’s four majors.

“We’re really trying to do more in golf,” Cannon said. “We think this is a great way to engage the consumer. Golf is our single largest [marketing] commitment and globally one of our most significant platforms.”

At the PGA Championship, the brand experience center has been the centerpiece of Mercedes’ on-site activation since it became a PGA of America patron sponsor, the highest level of PGA sponsorship.

The brand experience center at the PGA is a place where fans can escape the heat, learn about the history of the game and have their golf swing and putting stroke evaluated by PGA professionals. They might find a few Mercedes parked in and around the venue as well.

Fans leave their e-mail address so that the PGA pros can send them an evaluation of their stroke, which makes it an effective data collection tool for Mercedes. About 25,000 people went through the experience center last year at the PGA, but the automaker didn’t have projections for the expanded program this year.

The idea behind the roving golf performance center is similar. It will go to the site of a tournament and park at either a local dealership or the golf course directly if it’s somewhere Mercedes has rights. Mercedes is the official vehicle for a handful of PGA Tour events, such as the Wells Fargo Championship in Charlotte and the AT&T National in Philadelphia.

Mercedes’ agency, Sage Collective, which handles strategy and activation, is managing the tour out of its Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., office. A Mercedes Sprinter van is the anchor vehicle for the mobile tour. Mercedes wouldn’t reveal the cost of the golf performance center, which will cover 4,200 square feet when set up.

Mercedes will use its social media outlets on Facebook and Twitter to drive traffic to the performance center when it visits a dealership or a tournament venue, as well as its website, mbusa.com. The dealers will use their contact lists of current and former customers to issue invitations as well via mail, e-mail and other collateral in the showroom and service centers. Meanwhile, photos and updates from the road will be updated and posted on the social media outlets.

There are nine stops planned for 2011, including the Masters, PGA Championship, Senior PGA, Wells Fargo, AT&T, Chevron World Challenge, Charles Schwab Cup Championship on the Champions Tour, and other dealer events.

More golf events likely will be added in the future and it is expected to accommodate some one-off appearances at dealerships outside of tournament markets.

“We provide the vehicles to a whole array of events, both for display and courtesy cars,” Cannon said. “So what we’re trying to do is raise our game beyond just parking our cars at the tournament. This is a way to really engage the customer and to give them something back with the great instruction they’re going to receive from the PGA pros.”

The PGA of America worked with Mercedes to identify the best golf technology to outfit the mobile centers.

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