After slow start, Porsche cranks its Chinese marketing plan into top gear

Automaker pushes thrill of sports cars to nation's growing number of rich

By Published on .

[shanghai, china] It's the world's fastest-growing auto market and has 300,000 citizens worth more than $1 million eager to flaunt their fortune. So why is Porsche off to a slow start in China?

For one thing, the country's road system is poorly maintained and frequently jammed, leading wealthy auto owners to employ chauffeurs to drive Mercedes-Benz or BMWs. But Jebsen & Co., the Porsche importer for China, thinks the time is right for wealthy Chinese to start investing in a flashier second or third car, and is gearing up a major marketing push to promote its sexiest models in a country that historically has not been a major market for sports cars.

Porsche sales volume in China "isn't big," conceded Mark Bishop, Jebsen's managing director for China, but "China is going through such dramatic changes. The economy is continuing to grow at a staggering rate, so strategically it's quite an important market as one of our top growth opportunities."

Of the 88,379 cars Porsche sold last year, only 857 were in China. But that figure represented a 200% increase over 2004 sales, and this year the company hopes to sell 1,350 cars on the mainland.

"That's our goal," said Mr. Bishop, who relocated to Shanghai 16 months ago from Dubai, where he oversaw Porsche's development in the Middle East, "but I'm pretty confident we'll go past it."

The campaign, created by Omnicom Group's DDB Worldwide, Shanghai, is designed to get Chinese to view Porsche more as a sports car. While that image is firmly established in developed markets, 80% of Porsche buyers in China take home a Cayenne, a sport utility vehicle.

"Cayenne doesn't look like a sports car," said a DDB executive in Shanghai. "In that sense, there's an identity problem. When people talk about Porsche in a Western country, they think 911 or Carrera, but when they hear about Porsche in China, they don't think of those models."

Also, he added, "roads in China are not friendly to sports cars, sometimes driving here is more like off-road conditions in the West, so the Cayenne is more adaptive to local road conditions."

The tilt towards SUV sales isn't surprising for a developing market, "but we're seeing sports car sales come up in numbers," he said.

New creative, both corporate image and product ads, and below-the-line events promoting smaller cars like the 911, recently broke at the first Millionaire Fair in China, a lifestyle event organized in major cities by Amsterdam-based Gijrath Media.

Porsche is talking to other luxury marketers about co-organizing events, and is inviting potential consumers to a 16-day road show at Shanghai's Grand Prix circuit. That event gives 40 Chinese per day a chance to live the lifestyle by getting behind the wheel in a protected environment and receive instructor training.

"We are exclusive and have to maintain that exclusivity," he said. "But in China it helps to let people touch and feel us."
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