Mercedes-Benz is debuting its largest tech-powered activation at the U.S. Open this week to promote its new in-car voice assistant technology. The automaker has been a sponsor of the world’s largest tennis tournament since 2010, mostly using the event to showcase new models and engage visitors with games.
The “Serve Like Sloane” AR experience features 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens, who guides players through a little tennis lesson with the help of the Mercedes-Benz User Experience voice assistant (MBUX for short). The experience is open at the USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in Queens, New York until September 8.
To play, visitors step up to the mini tennis court, grab a racket and ask the screen at one end of the court: “Hey Mercedes, teach me to play like Sloane.” MBUX then evaluates how well you perform compared to the tennis champ.
The voice technology won’t spare your feelings. She’s not as nice as the artificial Sloane. If your serve or stroke doesn’t match up—and what regular person’s would?—MBUX will give it to you straight: “Practice your serve for two hours every day for the next 7,300 days and eat a balanced diet.” Basically, good luck ever playing at the U.S. Open.
Players sign-up with their information at the start of the experience and receive a digital video to share on social media afterwards. Mercedes-Benz will of course use those sign-in emails to contact them again in the future.
The mini tennis court is located right next to the brand’s new GLS model which offers the MBUX functionality, and attendants are around to align the AR experience with the in-car voice technology. Mercedes-Benz introduced MBUX into its A-class line in 2018. The technology is similar to Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Home devices in that drivers can give the tech specific commands, sans hands. Drivers, for instance, can use it to change the radio station, turn up the air conditioner or search the internet.
“We’re in the education phase on MBUX,” says Monique Harrison, head of brand experience marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA. “We want to make sure we are educating people on what’s in the next Mercedes-Benz they will buy.” Harrison wouldn’t reveal the brand’s investment on the activation or for the U.S. Open.
The strategy isn’t stopping there. Directly after the close of the event, the activation will open on September 15 at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta for the first Atlanta Falcons football game of the season. This time, it will feature Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. There are plans for the activation to appear at other sporting events in the future although there are no other confirmed events yet, according to Nicholas Emma, sports marketing and consumer events at Mercedes-Benz USA.
“We always try to be where customers are, and sports is a big one for us,” he says, adding that he can see it coming to events catered around entertainment as well.
The brand first began advertising its MBUX voice assistant last year during the Super Bowl in a spot where a spokesperson shows he can command anything in his world like he would in a Mercedes-Benz with MBUX. Even Ludacris makes an appearance.