Cannon's First Task at Mercedes: Push the C-Class

New Ad Chief Says Redesigned Sedan Is 'Most Important Launch in the Company's History'

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DETROIT ( -- Steve Cannon, 46, rejoined Mercedes-Benz USA June 25 after a seven-year hiatus from the automaker. He's now VP-marketing and a member of the executive management team overseeing marketing communications, market research and product management of the Mercedes-Benz and Maybach brands in the U.S.
Steve Cannon

Steve Cannon, now VP-marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA

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Mr. Cannon started at the automaker in 1991 as executive assistant to the president and CEO. He later moved to the automaker's worldwide headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany, and was part of the small team that developed plans for the brand's first SUV, the M-Class. Mr. Cannon spent two years at the end of the 1990s as marketing director of the automaker's financial-services arm. Prior to his return to Mercedes-Benz, Mr. Cannon was a principal of Richards Group, where he ran Hyundai Motor America's regional dealer group advertising.

In his first interview with the press since his return, he spoke to Ad Age Detroit Bureau Chief Jean Halliday.

Ad Age: What's the biggest difference you found at Mercedes-Benz USA since your return?

Steve Cannon: We have a new CEO, Ernst Lieb, who has spent a lot of time around the world in markets, so he's a dealer guy, an employee guy and a car guy. He's shaken up the culture and he's invigorated the organization.

Ad Age: What's currently on your plate?

Mr. Cannon: Right now we are starting our biggest and most important launch in the company's history [the campaign for the redone 2008 line of C-Class sedans that] breaks Sept. 10. The entry-level luxury segment is the biggest and most competitive in the industry. For the first time we have a two-pronged product strategy with a sport version and luxury version. The C-Class is the gateway to the brand and a primary feeder of Mercedes-Benz ecosystem, whether it be convertibles, coupes or trucks. So a healthy C-Class translates to a healthy brand.

Ad Age: Where will the C-Class buyers come from?

Mr. Cannon: The usual suspects: luxury competitors like BMW, Infiniti, Lexus and Audi and a lot of what feeds this segment is highly equipped nonluxury products.

Ad Age: Have you made any changes in marketing since you arrived other than promoting Drew Slaven from manager-marketing communications to the new post of general manager-marketing services?

Mr. Cannon: I am doing a deep dive in all departments and this is happening while I'm running 100 miles an hour. Right now I am trying to get down to what we have to execute for the rest of 2007, what our priorities are and formulating our priorities for 2008.

In the past, we hadn't done a lot of testing before our ads came out. We started testing [the upcoming C-Class ads] with a pretty big online panel of consumers through TNS. The auto norm is 50% of people who are motivated to seek out more information about the product and we came in at 65%, so we know this advertising will do what it's supposed to. We are going to establish Mercedes-Benz norms for a body of work so we'll be able to test against our own campaigns. We'll be able to see how our ads perform against the competitive set and it lets us talk to the agency about how well it's doing.

Ad Age: How was your ad agency experience?

Mr. Cannon: It was terrific. To have spent five years on the agency side and in their shoes is really important. I truly believe as a client you get the advertising you deserve. With great leadership, you get great advertising. These guys [at Merkley & Partners, New York] have more institutional memory on their brand than in most places.

Ad Age: What's your biggest challenge at Mercedes-Benz?

Mr. Cannon: Obviously for me is to make sure this biggest-ever C-Class launch goes off without a hitch. Right on its heels [in mid-October] comes the M-Class so we have no gap and we are going to crank up the volume on that.

Bet you didn't know ...

"I'm a West Point graduate and I was a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger. When I left the army as a lieutenant to join Mercedes in 1991, I went from a pup tent to Auberge du Soliel, a fancy, posh hotel in Napa Valley hotel for the S-Class press launch two months later. It couldn't have been a starker contrast."
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