Mercedes-Benz fights bad publicity with humor

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COPENHAGEN -- Daimler-Benz has hurriedly wheeled out print ads to reassure car buyers about the safety of its newly launched Mercedes- Benz A-Class cars following damaging reports last week that the new model had tipped over during technical tests in Sweden.

Remarkably, the full-page ads in 10 Danish and 60 Swedish newspapers, attempt humor with a picture of the A-Class upside down and the caption, "The famous Mercedes-Benz star has a big advantage: it can be read even if the car is upside down!" The headline reads: "Can you still trust Mercedes-Benz?"

Troels Bjerg, marketing director at Mercedes- Benz Denmark/Sweden, says the company wanted to admit to the problem, to react to it and to show humility. "We wanted to show it with a glint in the eye, even though it is a serious problem," he says. "And we wanted to tell people in Denmark and Sweden how Mercedes-Benz will solve the problem."

The A-Class tipped over at speeds as low as 60 kph during a so-called "moose test" in Sweden in which drivers simulate having suddenly to switch lanes to avoid a moose on the road. The impact of the bad publicity this caused is expected to damage the reputation of Mercedes all over Europe.

The ad details the changes that will be made to the A-Class, which has only just gone on general sale, and concludes: "You can still trust Mercedes-Benz." The changes involve replacing the type of tires and fitting as standard and free of charge an innovative computer system that stabilizes the vehicles.

Copyright November 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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