Swiss shop named lead agency on smart car launch

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BIEL, Switzerland -- Micro Compact Car (MCC), the joint venture between Mercedes-Benz and Swiss watchmaker SMH's Swatch, named Zurich-based Weber Hodel Schmidt as the lead ad agency for the Smart car, a two-seater aimed at young urban dwellers. The tiny car is two-thirds the size of a normal hatchback.

MCC offices across Europe are free to choose local agencies to adapt the Zurich agency's work. The local agencies do not have to be on the Mercedes- Benz roster. Insiders estimate that MCC will spend $50m-$60m on advertising the Swatch car in Europe. Weber Hodel Schmidt will also handle the literature account for the Swatch car, creating brochures and other promotional material. No decision has been made on which agency will handle media buying and planning. The first advertising will coincide with the launch of the car next Spring.

Other finalists for the lead agency account include Wieden & Kennedy, Amsterdam, and SCPF, an agency which opened recently in Barcelona and Start Advertising, Munich.

Separately, one of the Swatch car's marketing initiatives has come under fire. Because the car is so small, MCC it looking for ways to accommodate drivers when they go on long journeys or need extra space. In an effort to service Swatch car owners and to introduce new drivers to the car, MCC's German subsidiary is about to sign a deal that entitles travelers who purchase a ticket with Lufthansa or German rail a free Swatch rental car. The proposal has outraged drivers of Germany's 52,000 taxis, some 70% of which are made by Mercedes.

Gerhard Christ, chairman of the German Taxi Association of Hamburg, says: "Mercedes can't do this. If taxi drivers no longer have any passengers, they certainly won't need a Mercedes."

Copyright May 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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