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Once viewed on shaky ground with Mercedes-Benz, Lowe & Partners/SMS has driven away with a major coup-global coordination of marketing for the automaker's "all-activities vehicle."

The assignment will include the estimated $50 million U.S. ad introduction for the new sport-utility vehicle, beginning in the fall of 1997.

Mike Jackson, exec VP-sales and marketing for Mercedes-Benz of North America, acknowledged the assignment is a vote of confidence in the New York agency's recent work, especially the November debut campaign for the redesigned E-Class line of sedans.

Mercedes initially considered a full-blown review for the new vehicle, to be built at its first U.S. plant in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

"We're thrilled with what we achieved in 1995 with Lowe, in terms of meeting the difficult challenge of redefining the brand to be relevant, contemporary and approachable," Mr. Jackson said.

Mercedes showed an uptick in sales last year, a 5.1% improvement to 76,752 units. Expanding the brand's appeal with baby boomers and women is a key to an ambitious expansion plan, with Mercedes shooting for U.S. sales of 125,000 units a year by 1998.

Less than a year ago, Lowe's hold on the estimated $100 million car account was called into question when Mercedes hired talent agency International Creative Management. Mercedes quietly let its contract with ICM expire last fall without implementing any ICM-conceived programs.

For the new vehicle, Lowe will handle global strategic positioning, though creative executions will be carried out by Mercedes' shops in other markets.

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