Super Bowl Ad Stories: “Old, Stodgy” Mercedes-Benz Fights Back on YouTube, Twitter

This Super Bowl, Mercedes translated its century-old brand to younger audiences through social media–and with the help of tennis superstar Serena Williams, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, and Run-DMC’s Rev Run.


This year marks the 125th anniversary of Mercedes-Benz. While consumers may see that as a sign of longevity, competitors are using the opportunity to paint the German automobile maker as outdated and irrelevant. Most explicitly, Cadillac has launched a number of shots at Mercedes, with commercials touting its vehicles as the “New Standard of the World.”

“We’ve got competitors out there that are trying to slap a label of old, stodgy luxury on our brand,” says Steve Cannon, VP of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA.

This Super Bowl, it’s Cannon’s task to translate the century-old value of Mercedes to younger audiences. The company is using the big game to make a big splash in social media–and the company has brought out some big guns for the non-traditional ad campaign: tennis superstar Serena Williams, Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz, and Run-DMC’s Rev Run.

Over the past week, these celebs have served as “coaches” for what Mercedes is calling a “Twitter-fueled race.” Four teams of drivers raced toward Dallas, having left from all parts of the country: L.A., Chicago, New York, and Miami. In order to make it to the finish line, however, they needed to appeal the social graph for actual fuel. Every tweet and new follower added fuel to their cars; if they failed to go viral, the car would not work.


“In each of these vehicles, there is a device–it’s a tweet meter–installed that will measure tweets and social impact, which will translate to fuel that will power the cars from point A to point B,” says Cannon. “The car won’t move without social fuel: tweets, retweets, followers, Facebook Likes, All these translate into real fuel.”

To survive the 1,800 mile journey, these drivers needed to generate a lot of buzz for Mercedes. The company selected the contestants for this end, choosing them based on their online influence, followers, influence, and Klout scores, which measures one’s social footprint. With the help of their celeb “coaches,” Mercedes believed they should be able to fuel their rides and help the automaker build a presence online. 

Cannon admits that social media won’t necessarily have as much of an impact as a 30 or 60 second spot on the Super Bowl, but believes it will eventually. He refers to Gen-Y’ers as “digital natives” who will become the “most important influential buying demographic” over the next 15 years.

To gain good footing with that tech-savvy crowd, Mercedes is getting on-board social media, rather than getting left behind.


“This is social media meets the Amazing Race meets Cannon Ball Run” he says. “Can you boil that down into an ROI right now? No, and if marketers use that as an excuse to stay out of social media, they’re going to lose relevance.”

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About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.