According to the story I heard, a few years ago at the big German car show, the IAA, the makers of the new Mini (BMW) decided to put their car next to a Smart (made by arch enemy Mercedes) and fill them both with ping pong balls. As visitors to their stand could clearly see, they got more ping pong balls into the new Mini. (Any more input on this potentially apocryphal story, much appreciated – add comment below).
Feeling just as childish and equally unwilling to stand and stare, Mercedes started a comparative advertising campaign. This was probably encouraged by their advertising agency as local laws had recently been relaxed and comparisons were now, for the first time, allowed.
This is a scan of the Smart press ad:
We could debate whether it’s good. The branding is not ideal. The leap in thought that this is better than the Mini is a tricky one. In any event they were not even comparing to the new Mini, just saying goodbye to the old one.
So with the next execution they changed tack with a double-page ad (which looks like BMW advertising on the left – hmm, is that boosting the brand of your competitor, should BMW thank them?)
[Left]Freude am Fahren (The joy of driving).
[Right] Freude am Einstiegen, Starten, Schalten, Beschleunigen (The joy of getting in, starting, shifting gear, accelarating….etc)
Now, you could claim a number of failings with this ad. Smart could potentially be sued for using a BMW slogan – I never heard that they were, so maybe BMW forgot to register it. Second, is this not comparing apples with pears?
Well, I would ask first who the target market is. Townies? Singles? Or maybe families? Housewives? Do you not see drives in Germany with a big exec style car on one side (typically for husband) and a small roundabout-town car next to it? Perhaps the ad could be construed to mean “let your hubby have his fun driving his BMW (‘Freude am Fahren’) while you have fun doing a lot more”.
I’m not sure but I know one thing: it’s hard to imagine this ad selling more Smarts. It merely makes you look like you have a chip on your shoulder. Again: comments welcome.
Seconds away, round 3. BMW now enters the ring to swing a punch at Smart with this ad (also scanned in).
Excellent. Nice play on words. Target market hit on the nose (almost, ok nearly almost – the single shopper’s alternative; not quite suitable as a second car). But it hits similar benefits in terms of parking in tight spots and city driving.
Interestingly I found no more attempts by BMW to continue the scrap. But Mercedes, Smart’s owner, didn’t stop. Their next move was to push Mercedes trucks at the expense of BMW.
Auch ein Mercedes kann Fahrfreude bringen (Even a Mercedes can bring you the joy of driving).
A far cry from the original spat at the IAA, but amusing. And most of the Germans I have shown this loved it.
For more comparative ads for cars, in South Africa, see here.