American Marketer

Events / Causes

Mercedes-Benz continues mission to teach responsible driving

January 6, 2014


Mercedes-Benz is bringing its Teen Driving Academy to San Diego to offer driver education and training through its Department of Motor Vehicle-certified Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy beginning in mid-2014.

The program aims to instill decision-making skills into young drivers and help parents refine their educational techniques. By including parents and their children, Mercedes intends to create a familial team that increases the chances of enduring judiciousness behind the wheel.

"A program like this, if targeted to the general public, and not only affluent ZIP codes where the latest Mercedes-Benz is more of a fashion accessory, will create a first time experience in a Mercedes-Benz dealership or vehicle," said Bob Prosser, CEO of Auto World Marketing Corp., San Diego.

"Given the program's heavy emphasis on safety, it should be a positive brand experience for all families involved," he said.

"However, as for this being a cradle-to-grave branding and marketing exercise, well, in today's world there are so many good automotive choices out there, the life-long brand devotee is becoming rarer and rarer. All it takes are a few too many unsavory Mercedes-Benz dealership experiences or a car that has more problems than it should, and what was once loyalty becomes a bad taste in the mouth."

Mr. Prosser is not affiliated with Mercedes-Benz, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy did not respond by press deadline.

Behind the wheel

Mercedes-Benz announced its latest Driving Academy news at the San Diego Auto Show Jan. 2.

Prior to the program's launch, a complimentary parent-teen workshop will be available in conjunction with local dealerships and schools.

The workshops will teach laws and restrictions, DMV requirements for obtaining a license and permit and how to choose the best driving school.

Driving Academy workshop

The academy will try to reinforce current policies that enhance driver safety such as the Graduated Driver Licensing Rules by combining classroom or online learning, on-road training, supervised practice and restricted privileges once a driver begins driving on their own.

Crucial to the program, according to the brand, will be the participation of parents who may carry on the reinforcing knowledge beyond the classes.

"Teens understand context," said Chris Ramey, president of Affluent Insights, Miami, FL. "They’ll go home and discover their parent’s American or Japanese automobile is inferior to the Mercedes.

"Hence the beginning of a lifelong brand fan," he said. "The best luxury marketers are alchemists blending awareness, greed, fear, good and desire.

Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy

The school helps students develop maneuverability and decision-making processes for the road. Through a variety of Web and classroom experiences, instructors will lead students through role-playing, case studies, dilemma games, witness accounts and brainstorming related to obstacles drivers face on the road.

Using a coaching-oriented education style, students will actively develop safe driving results by making better decisions on the road, it is claimed (see story).

The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is already operating in Los Angeles.

"Standard driving schools do one thing," Mr. Prosser said. "Teach you how to pass the DMV's written exam and driving test. You are on your own from there on.

"On the other hand, the Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is a high-touch marketing and branding exercise shaped as a goodwill gesture to the parents of young motorists," he said.

"No doubt there will be an on-road, behind-the-wheel component for driver training, safety and defensive driving demonstration, using, I would assume, 'drum roll please,' a Mercedes-Benz. The driving demonstration is probably a euphemism for 'test drive,' and did someone say 'please give us your contact information.' I mean, nothing comes free in this world."

The high road

Brands in categories that pose risks to consumers sometimes heed an implicit, societal duty to teach those consumers how to properly use their products.

For instance, LVMH-owned Moët Hennessy USA escalated efforts to prevent irresponsible and unsafe drinking by partnering with the Federal Trade Commission and The Century Council for the “We Don’t Serve Teens” campaign in New York.

The campaign disseminates information relating to the risks of alcohol and aims to deter teenagers from drinking, especially binge drinking. The multi-pronged approach includes ads on outdoor, print and online platforms and radio outlets, with information distributed in liquor stores, fine wine shops, bars and restaurants (see story).

Similarly, some brands feel obliged to lead the charge in environmental innovation, sensing broader societal duties.

For example, German automaker Audi is enlisting 12 United States undergraduates for a six-week practicum in the summer of 2014 to investigate how mobility will evolve in the coming decades.

Major cities around the world are experiencing increasing population density that place a strain on public and private resources, especially transportation. The U.S. undergraduates will explore ideas that address how automobiles will adapt to the stressed infrastructure and shifting availability of resources (see story).

Although there are branding undertones in any project a brand takes on, there is an obvious hierarchy of projects in terms of social good.

"Don't get me wrong," Mr. Prosser said. "Any program that gives a young driver more confidence and situational awareness is very welcome.

"What this program will likely not do though, and in my opinion is sorely lacking today, is provide education for teens, and many parents, on how to properly maintain their used car and how to keep from taking it to the dealer/repair shop for every little thing, such as how to change windshield wipers, burned out headlight and brake light bulbs, rotate tires and check air pressures, when to change fluids," he said.

"Of course, the parents don't need to bother with any of that if they buy a new or certified pre-owned Mercedes-Benz, now would they? Nudge-nudge, wink-wink."

Final Take
Joe McCarthy, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York