How Mercedes-Benz got it all right
2001. Somewhere in Harlem, NYC.
A narrow-shouldered boy with cornrows slowly creeps along a dark apartment hallway towards the kitchen. Illuminated by the daylight shining through the window, a young man sits at the kitchentable – and from somewhere this hypnotic knocking drones: Boom Boom Bap, Boom Bo Boom Bap. As the boy moves on it is getting louder and louder. A$AP Rocky begins to tell the story of his life…
“When I was growing up, there was this beat stuck in my head.”
The young man at the kitchen table bangs his fists on the wood. He nods to the beat as if in ecstasy. Boom Boom Bap, Boom Bo Boom Bap. The colorful Fruit Loops shake to the beat in the milk. Cut. Rocky’ reminiscing:
“No Matter what, I can never really get it out.”
And it goes Boom Boom Bap, Boom Bo Boom Bap. Until the screen goes black.
What starts out so promisingly proofs to be a masterful staging of a familiar motif in just 2:25: the narrative of the American dream. With gloomy, almost oppressive atmosphere at the beginning, a clever resolution at the end and a universal, motivating message to all who have goals in life and hurdles to overcome. Even when circumstances are adverse. Listen to your gut, believe in yourself and you can achieve anything.
It’s the episode “Get a Job.”, one of five shorts from the landmark 2017 Mercedes-Benz “Grow up” campaign. It features rap artist and style icon A$AP Rocky. He is telling the true story of himself to his older brother, whose tragic death miraculously became a fateful turning point in Rocky’s life. The clip showcases the hiphop version of the Amercian dream, where the protagonist has to start the game with a deficit and overcomes it with self-confidence and creativity.
Although “Get a Job.” is a commercial, it doesn’t feel like a one. Cars from Mercedes-Benz only register subliminally. That’s exactly what makes the campaign: for the first time, Mercedes-Benz did not focus on the car, but on the customer.
“Get a Job.” appeals to new target groups, especially the infamous Generation Y, by cracking the cultural code of its predominant youth culture. Rarely has a brand so credibly showcased its connection to hiphop without overstraining cultural clichées or sucking up to the youth. Quite contrary hiphop blends into the background story naturally without claiming to be hiphop by hook or by crook. It’s just a given part of Rocky’s life. No doubt. As Mercedes-Benz is. That’s what makes “Get a Job” so credible.
A major move at the right time in an automotive market that is undergoing major upheaval.
What does that tell us?
This is how we take
The old from the new
the new to the old
the old from the new
It was a radical turnaround in its brand communication that Mercedes-Benz accomplished with “Grow Up”. If you want to understand why, you first have to go back. Way back. To the summer of 1886, to be precise. The birth of the automobile.
It is only six months after Carl Benz applied for a patent for his “vehicle with gas engine operation” when the newspapers report on a special curiosity: the first public outing of the three-wheeled Benz Patent Motor Car, Type 1 – the first automobile. What no one knows at the time: it will fundamentally change the world.
No other car brand has as much tradition as Mercedes-Benz. Individual mobility as we know it would be inconceivable without it. They are still drawing on this heritage today, which is both a blessing and a curse. After all, technological progress and the climate crisis have fundamentally changed the general conditions. The automotive industry is in the midst of an epochal upheaval. What was right for more than 130 years is increasingly losing its validity. Values are changing, customers are changing their buying behavior, new technologies are replacing old ones.
“We will probably change the car more in the next ten to fifteen years than in the previous 130 years.“
Daimler Chief Design Officer
“We are moving from product-centric to customer-centric in our communications. We think from thecustomer’s point of view, continuously scrutinize measures and commitments critically, and create a culture of materiality and clarity. This is how we have re-sharpened our brand positioning.”
Vice President Marketing Mercedes-Benz Cars
Revolution from above?
In 2016, then Daimler CEO Dietmar Zetsche demonstratively took to the stage of the Paris Motor Show in sneakers and announced “a revolution from above,” as the Süddeutsche Zeitung wrote. His message: We don’t belong to the old iron. Quite the opposite. His plan: to transform the flagship of the German auto industry into a modern tech company in the style of Tesla. From now on, the company wanted to rethink the transformation from the customer’s perspective.
The brands that survive are those that keep their finger on the pulse and inspire future buyers. The challenge: revitalize the Merceds-Benz brand, create an emotional bond, commitment and loyalty. Build on the things that can’t be invented as quickly as an electric runabout – brand, history, heritage – and transport them into the here and now from the perspective of tomorrow’s customers.
Mercedes-Benz should become a love brand among the young again. A modern brand that not only understands and embraces the spirit of the times, but also embodies it in a credible way. A brand with whose goals and values one identifies.
out of nothing