Bentley accentuates its powerful side

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Bentley Motor Cars USA wants to carve out an image of power and performance for its expensive, hand-crafted, British-made cars.

The niche marketer to the ultra- rich has a tough road ahead, but the strategy is doable, said Jim Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific. "Bentley's biggest problem is there are a lot of people who don't know what Bentley is," he said.

But, he added, the brand could attract more buyers with a new vehicle in the $145,000 to $160,000 range and still keep its allure of exclusivity.

This year's new Arnage Red Label sedan, to be featured in all upcoming ads, starts at $209,900, said Tom Smith, national marketing manager at Bentley.

Last year's Continental SC coupe started at $319,900.

Bentley sold 674 cars in North America last year, most in the U.S., Mr. Smith said. The brand hopes to sell 4,000 units annually within five years.

Bentley will get more models to help it reach that goal under new German owner Volkswagen AG, but Mr. Smith declined to discuss future products.


Before last year, Bentley hadn't advertised in the U.S. for at least five years, he said.

The marketer breaks its 2000 ad campaign in targeted April magazines. The estimated $3 million, all-print push will continue through June, then return in September.

The media buy drops national newspapers used in 1999 because "we found we get a better bang for our buck in magazines," said Joe Ashworth, marketing manager at Bentley.

He said the target is "supermillionaires" with a net worth of at least $10 million. Bentley owners now are an average 50 years old vs. 53 a year ago, mostly male and generally self-made millionaires. Owners tend to have at least five other vehicles.


The specific audience consists of Hollywood actors and directors, professional athletes, entertainers, lawyers and high-profile investors and philanthropists, Mr. Ashworth said.

The media buy includes American Lawyer, Forbes, Hollywood Reporter, Institutional Investor, Robb Report, Variety and newcomer Pro.

Regional ads also will appear in targeted publications in Bentley's three core markets -- Los Angeles, New York and south Florida -- which account for 75% of unit sales.

DDB Worldwide, New York, created a slew of executions that were tested with the target, said Steven Landsberg, co-chief creative officer.

"We wanted to be very specific about performance and surprise people with the car's incredible performance," he said.

Consumers are confused about the difference between Bentley and its sibling, Rolls-Royce, Mr. Landsberg said. "People don't give Bentley credit for the incredible amount of power it has."


Bentley is "a driver's car," said Stewart Krull, associate creative director at DDB. Although someone would hire a chauffeur to drive a Rolls, that wouldn't be done with a Bentley, he said.

VW engaged in a fierce bidding war with Bayerische Motoren Werke AG for Rolls-Royce Motor Cars, which included Bentley.

Shortly after the deal closed in 1998, VW agreed to let BMW keep the Rolls name starting in 2003. BMW had threatened to stop supplying engines to Rolls. VW keeps Bentley.

Mr. Hall said Bentley is a dream for an ad agency because of its heritage. In the 1920s, Bentley won four prestigious Le Mans races. He said its models today are "amazingly fast for as large as they are."

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