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Marketing a car can be tricky when you only plan to sell 100 and the least expensive model goes for more than $200,000.

Prestige brands such as Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce and Ferrari often opt for little or no conventional media advertising to reach their deep-pocketed prospects.

These marques "are almost too exclusive to be advertised," said auto consultant John Rettie, founder of johnrettie.com. Sales volume of prestige brands is "almost irrelevant," he added, "because you can't sell too many or the exclusivity goes away."


Lamborghini, with a new U.S. distributor, is shying away from advertising this year. In January, Santa Ana, Calif., Lamborghini dealer Vic Keuylian acquired distribution rights for the Italian brand from Automobili Lamborghini USA. Mr. Keuylian said that unlike past years, he doesn't expect any national print ads in 1998 for the cars.

"Every car we get is already sold so, fortunately for us, I don't think we have to advertise because of a shortage of cars," said Mr. Keuylian, who expects to sell 100 Lamborghinis in the U.S. this year. Starting price: $229,900.

Rolls-Royce Motor Cars North America found its 1997 print ads in Forbes to be very effective at reaching targeted customers, said John Bingham, national marketing director at the importer. But this year, Rolls refocused efforts on event marketing, to tout a new model and reach an even more targeted audience.

Mullen, Wenham, Mass., handled the account until Rolls moved its advertising in-house in 1996, and primarily did print ads.

Consuming all Rolls' 1998 marketing attention is the Silver Seraph sedan, launched last month in four cities with events at art galleries, art museums or high-end restaurants. Rolls invited about 250 prospects to each event, which featured an opera singer and all eight other car models Rolls has made during its history.

"Silver Seraph is more than a car, and we didn't want to launch it in a dealer showroom," Mr. Bingham said. "We wanted to position it alongside some art."

He credited the program with bringing in just fewer than 100 orders for the 350 Silver Seraphs that will be sold in North America this year via Rolls' 40 dealers. The car is Rolls' first new model in 18 years and starts at $216,400.


Later this year, Rolls sister marketer Bentley Motor Cars will launch its new Arange model. Also handled in-house, Bentley's ad tag last year was "You don't park it. You position it." Rolls' and Bentley's British parent, Vickers, spent $372,100 in measured media in 1997, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Mr. Bingham projected the Bentley brand also would sell about 350 cars this year in North America. He estimated the North American market for prestige vehicles at 19,000, and about 65,000 globally.


Other, more mainstream car marketers are eyeing the prestige segment.

Volkswagen AG is trying to buy Rolls from Vickers to move itself upstream. But Vickers, which put Rolls and Bentley on the block last fall, reportedly is limited to exclusive negotiations for several weeks with Bayerische Motoren Werke. BMW is said to be offering about $570 million, while VW upped its earlier bid to nearly $920 million.

Both VW and Mercedes-Benz parent Daimler-Benz, earlier interested in Rolls, are said to be considering entering the prestige segment with new models in the $200,000 segment.

"A lot of people feel VW doesn't need Rolls-Royce and Bentley," but it would give the German carmaker instant entry into the segment instead of starting its own brand, said Mr. Rettie, who added, "BMW won't expand the brand as much as VW."

Baby boomers, now arriving at their peak earning years, are fueling sales in the segment, said Adam Stagliano, president of Weiss, Whitten, Stagliano, the New York agency that handles Ferrari North America.

When Weiss Whitten won that account in 1994, the Italian-made brand sold about 450 cars annually in the U.S. Now it sells about 845. Its least expensive Spider model starts at $125,000.

The four-seat 456, priced at about $225,000, is extending the brand and Ferrari's image, Mr. Stagliano said.

Ferrari, known for two-seat sports cars, advertises in print only -- mainly in Fortune, Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal. One of the marketer's main communication vehicles is Rosso, a quarterly sent to owners and former owners. Ferrari spent $111,300 in measured media in 1997, according to CMR.


"Relationship marketing is the priority," Mr. Stagliano said. "A large percentage of Ferrari owners are people who owned Ferraris before."

After winning the account, Weiss Whitten refocused on the brand's racing mystique.

"Ferrari builds a great race car people can buy vs. a big car company that happens to race," Mr. Stagliano said.

Creative strategy is to show the art of the cars in both performance and design.

Ferrari doesn't bother with a tagline in its advertising. "A tagline is redundant," Mr. Stagliano said. "Ferrari is its own tagline."

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