The last two times Mercedes-Benz bought time in the Super Bowl, it used decidedly younger-skewing imagery, like animated bunnies and Kate Upton. This year, the company is unabashedly returning to its demographic sweet spot with an ad that features a Baby Boomer triumvirate: the Coen Brothers, Steppenwolf and "Easy Rider."
The minute-long spot, directed by the Academy Award-winning duo, opens on an aging biker putting on glasses to read a dive bar jukebox—which offers nothing but Steppenwolf’s "Born to Be Wild." Glancing around the rowdy bar, we see a shrine to "Easy Rider," and an arm-wrestling match that reveals an "Easy Rider" tattoo. Then, a record-scratch moment: One biker announces he’s "blocked in," and the offender turns out to be "Easy Rider" star Peter Fonda, driving a Mercedes-AMG GT C Roadster.
"'Easy Rider' is probably one of—if not the—greatest expression of unbridled passion of the road," said Mercedes-Benz USA VP of Marketing Drew Slaven. "I think millennials will get it. It is arguably aimed at a slightly older demographic. Different vehicles have different audience."
The ad, from Omnicom’s Merkley + Partners, stands in stark contrast to its 2013 commercial, which used Upton and Usher to advertise the CLR, which was priced under $30,000. In 2015, the brand advertised its AMG GT model with a reimagined version of the "Tortoise and The Hare" fable.
Unlike perennial Super Bowl advertisers like Budweiser and Doritos, Mercedes only buys spots when it has a new product to promote, Slaven said.
The Baby Boomer references in the new spot are part of a larger effort to brand AMG. The race car arm of the automaker launched 50 years ago, in 1967; "Born to Be Wild" came out the following year and "Easy Rider" debuted in 1969.
"We feel now that it’s at a point where it deserves its own sort of brand," said Slaven. "In the past, we’ve used AMG but kept the nomenclature quiet to show that Mercedes-Benz has sports car credentials."
Make no mistake, Slaven added, "these are race cars. They happen to look very nice, and you can drive them on the average road, but they’re race cars"—race cars that aging baby boomers can afford, unlike most millennials.
The current campaign isn’t totally ignoring millennials, though, said Slaven. Peter Fonda "is a legend," he said. "I think they’ll understand who he is and what he represents." Plus, for "True Blood" fans, actress Dale Dickey makes a cameo.
Mercedes hasn’t released the starting price for the GT C Roadster, but the convertible will be more expensive than its predecessor, the GT S, which begins at $131,200, according to Slaven. "There’s always a premium when the roof comes off," he said. The brand plans to advertise it on television during the Masters "and even more after then." But the big reveal hits during "what we consider to be still the single most important marketing event of the year, and that’s the Super Bowl," said Slaven.
Also, look for Mercedes-Benz’s 2016 commercial "Snow Date" during the pre-game, which, when juxtaposed with "Easy Driver," shows the "sweet and edgy" sides to Mercedes-Benz.