Lincoln Mercury Co. is inviting "influencers" to drive the LS during the nine-city tour, which started April 17 in San Francisco.
The push is part of a long pre-launch that started last summer and culminates when the sedan goes on sale early this summer. The tactic also reflects a trend in which carmakers are prospecting for customers up to a year before a vehicle goes on sale.
The LS invitees was culled from prospects who sought more information about the car. They responded to an 800-number listed in teaser print ads or to the sedan's pages on Lincoln's Web site (www.lincolnvehicles.com), said Mary Kay Francis, account manager of Caribiner International, New York, which developed the event.
Not all respondents were invited, Ms. Francis said. Only prospects who said in a questionnaire they influenced more than four car purchases annually made the cut.
'ADVOCATES' FOR LS
The difference between an "influencer" and other respondents is "they can be a source of advocates, information and free publicity within their circle of friends," she said.
The San Francisco event at the Treasure Island resort was the most elaborate of the tour because it lasted two weeks, the longest on the schedule. Lincoln spent more than $6 million on that event. Y&R Advertising, San Francisco and Irvine, Calif., handled LS teaser ads appearing during the event.
A large amount of LS marketing spending will be on events. The car's event budget is up "a couple of hundred percent" compared with that of the Navigator sport-utility vehicle, said Ian Beavis, marketing communications manager of Lincoln Mercury.
SEEKING EARLY ADAPTERS
Lincoln isn't the only early bird creatively looking for prospects.
In July 1996, Audi of America began loaning its new A8 sedan for to influential, early adapters, ranging from chefs to former Illinois Gov. Jim Thompson to football coach Mike Ditka. About 30 people in nine cities drove the cars, which went on sale in fall 1996.
DaimlerChrysler started in January to build a prospect list for its Chrysler PT Cruiser, scheduled to reach showrooms in spring 2000. Chrysler is collecting data via business reply cards, an 800-number and its Web site (www.chryslercars.com).
Mercedes-Benz USA in 1995 started a two-year direct mail campaign seeking prospects' input for an unnamed sport-utility it intended to build. By the time the ML320 went on sale, Mercedes had more than 100,000 people who said they were interested in buying the vehicle.