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Mercedes-Benz aims at teens, parents through free driver educationBy Tricia Carr
German automaker Mercedes-Benz is offering free programs during National Distracted Driving Month for teens and their parents in the Los Angeles area through the brand’s official driving school.
The Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy is putting on free demonstrations and workshops in partnership with advocacy groups such as Impact Teen Drivers. However, some experts are wondering whether or not these types of efforts are necessary for marketers.
“The immediate goal is to improve the level of driver education and to build safer and more responsible drivers for life,” said Carolyn Duchene, director of Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy, Los Angeles.
“Currently, the vast majority of our students do not come from families of Mercedes-Benz owners,” she said. “Just as Mercedes-Benz has shared its patents for safety innovation across the entire automotive industry, we see Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy as a mechanism through which we can educate both our own students as well as the general public about the need for increased focus on driver education and the need for a better solution.”
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy opened Nov. 2011 and is the automaker’s first state-certified, branded driving education program in the United States. The academy’s first location is in Britain.
Mercedes has created a series of programs for teens and their parents that align with the concerns of the third annual National Distracted Driving Awareness Month in April.
Programs will include a distracted driving demo, a workshop for parents and teens and driving assessments.
The goal of these programs is to raise awareness of distracted driving among teens, claims Mercedes.
The driving school is bringing a demonstration to Calabasas High School April 2, which takes place during California Teen Safe Driving Week. This event will begins Mercedes’ month-long series of programs through its driving academy.
During the demonstration, students will start by driving on a distraction-free closed course.
Then, the driver will repeat the course with forced distractions such as cell phone usage and loud passengers to show the effects of distractions on a teen’s driving performance.
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy will continue to offer free workshops and demonstrations at its location in Los Angles throughout April.
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy
The driving academy will offer free workshops for teens and their parents during which the school’s driving instructors will review driving laws, teen driving statistics and tips for safe driving.
Mercedes-Benz Driving Academy Web site
In addition, students can participate in free driving assessments at the school.
“In my opinion, philanthropic activities are not important at all,” said Rob Frankel, branding expert at marketing consultancy firm Frankel & Anderson, Los Angeles. “It’s actually distraction from the brand and its core business.
“The problem with much of today’s marketing is that it relies on gimmicks and non-related issues to sell its goods instead of a cogent marketing agenda,” he said.
Philanthropic events could give luxury marketers the opportunity to strengthen a brand’s image if consumers are receptive to the efforts.
Mercedes is focusing on the Los Angeles market for its driver education programs, which could be a strategic move due to the area’s concentration of luxury consumers.
The automaker could also be looking to create a family-oriented brand by letting parents and teens participate together in workshops.
Mercedes chose Los Angeles as the site of its first U.S. driving school due to the increasingly large crash number of accidents among teens in the area, according the brand (see story).
A 2012 report by the Governors Highway Safety Association found that the number of teen drivers who died in car crashes increased by 11 perfect in the first half of 2011. This finding comes after an eight-year decline.
These findings influenced the academy’s participating in National Distracted Driving Month, according to Mercedes.
Other luxury automakers are participating in philanthropic events that aim at younger generations.
For example, Lexus partnered with book publisher Scholastic for the fourth incarnation of the Lexus Eco Challenge education initiative, which encouraged middle- and high-school students to develop solutions to pressing environmental issues. The company offered $500,000 in scholarships and grants to winning participants (see story).
In addition, Cadillac used teen pop sensation Justin Bieber in a partnership with Sony Music to raise awareness and funds for Cure Duchenne via radio advertising (see story).
“This won’t help the brand market to luxury consumers,” Mr. Frankel said. “I know they hope it will, but that’s just because when marketing runs out of ideas, they turn to motherhood issues to garner additional awareness.
“If it gets the client’s name in the media, the public relations firm has done its job,” he said. “However, try tying the message to increases in sales and there usually isn’t anything there.”
Tricia Carr, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York
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