July 24, 2012
German automaker Mercedes-Benz is letting fans interact with its new A-Class models as an inaugural partner of the SimCity Social Facebook game.
Consumers on Facebook can add branded game pieces such as a car factory, billboard and Mercedes showroom filled with A-Class models to their virtual cities. Luxury brand gaming efforts seem to be a push to reach a very young demographic and therefore may not increase dealership visits and sales.
“Mercedes is aiming at a younger, entry-level car buyer who aspires to own a luxury automobile, and is using the game as a tool to alert this younger audience about the availability of the A-Class car,” said John Casey, founder of Freshfluff, New York.
“Further, the strategy is to engage this younger demographic via a social game and platform where they can be reached cost-effectively,” he said.
“The game will probably resonate more with a younger crowd in Europe since that is where the car is more prevalent, but the beauty of social games is that if the game itself is fun and worthwhile, that should virally spread across the pond to a younger audience in the United States, and so will word about the availability of the A-Class.”
Mr. Casey is not affiliated with Mercedes, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.
Mercedes did not respond before press deadline.
SimCity Social lets players build their own cities with virtual currency and interact with friends as “neighbors” in the game.
Until September, players have the opportunity to buy Mercedes buildings for their cities and see A-Class vehicles driving on their streets.
Mercedes dealership in SimCity Social
The automaker chose to market via the game due to the parallels between the A-Class’ new-generation design and technology and to reach its audience via social media, per Mercedes.
The game and Mercedes pieces are available internationally.
Dealer game piece
SimCity Social offered to give consumers a preview of what is to come in the PC version of the game scheduled to be released in 2013.
Get in the game
A few other luxury automakers have partnered with third-party game developers to push model ranges.
For instance, Lexus’ online campaign for the U.S. Open tournament included a free virtual golf game on the U.S. Open’s Web site.
Throughout the game, players saw branded tee marketers, flagsticks and wind indicators and each avatar wore a golf shirt and hat with the Lexus logo. In addition, commercials for the Lexus RX F SUV played to demonstrate Lexus’ “pursuit of perfection." (see story).
Also, British automaker Bentley Motors updated its vehicle offerings on the Sports Car Challenge mobile application to include its Bentley Continental GT V8 that allows iPad users to virtually test drive the model.
Consumers can find a dealer, go for a test drive and pick out parts of a Bentley vehicle before they take it out for a virtual spin (see story).
Meanwhile, high-end department store chain Nordstrom often reaches out to young consumers via mobile gaming.
The retailer used gaming app “Draw Something” to raise awareness for its scholarship program (see story).
In addition, Nordstrom targeted aspirational consumers through mobile banner ads for its Nordstrom Rack locations in the popular mobile app "Words With Friends" (see story).
Gaming will probably help brands increase visibility, but may not directly increase sales.
“Social gaming is another online branding opportunity,” Mr. Casey said. “I am not completely sold on social gaming being an effective method to sell more cars or products for a luxury brand.
“If the goal is to nudge a younger demographic and get them to at least become familiar with your brand and product, then it is a fun way to create a little excitement, but that would be the extent of what to expect from a social game,” he said.
However, Mercedes’ decision to be involved in social gaming is to be more engaging to younger consumers than digital advertising.
“It does add an element of fun around the brand and allows the Mercedes name the opportunity to spread via social media among a younger audience,” Mr. Casey said. “This also makes the brand more hip and relevant to younger demographics.”
Tricia Carr, editorial assistant on Luxury Daily, New York