Mercedes-Benz is the epitome of conservative, understated, success; its cars exude sophisticated engineering and comfort, but eschew radical design and racy excitement. We might expect the people who market them to reflect similar caution and conservatism.
Surprisingly, we would be wrong. DaimlerChrysler UK president and chief executive Joachim Eberhardt – who has just landed the top Chrysler marketing job in the US – took a very personal interest in creating a more radical slant for the Mercedes brand. He had a hands-on role in the removal of the &£10m advertising account to new agency CDD – which promptly produced some of the most interesting motor advertising in years. And he was responsible for DaimlerChrysler’s far-reaching reform of UK retail strategy before the abolition of the block exemption – way ahead of any other car manufacturer.
Marketing at DaimlerChrysler starts at the top, and there is no better example of this than its group chief executive Jurgen Schrempp. He is keenly aware that with globalisation comes global responsibility; any global brand that ignores this axiom will sooner or later find itself in deep trouble. His utterances on the subject are, admittedly, standard fare for chief executives trying to make capital out of corporate social responsibility: ‘Global companies can only be successful if they make an active contribution as global citizens to local communities around the world’, he said recently. What has been unusual is his personal commitment to CSR and his success in embodying it.
Most strikingly, DaimlerChrysler has, for some time now, taken a leading role in combating AIDS. It has sponsored ‘workplace initiatives on HIV/AIDS’ in South Africa and was the first company to provide free anti-retroviral drugs to employees. However, most high profile – and global in its reach – has been Schrempp’s chairing of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS over the past year.
Whether by luck, design, or both, the choice of AIDS as a CSR platform is proving a shrewd move, as the worldwide pandemic once more moves up the agenda of global leaders and militant activists. DaimlerChrysler, by its longstanding commitment, has neatly avoided the pressures increasingly brought to bear on multinational corporations such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo, which are having to respond to faith-based shareholder groups in the US who believe they are not doing enough.
At the same time there has been a major political dividend for DaimlerChrysler. This was most symbolically expressed when Schrempp was invited on April 29 to meet president Bush at the White House. It just so happens that Bush is launching a $15bn (&£9bn) anti-AIDS initiative, mainly aimed at Africa where most AIDS deaths occur. The initiative is gaining him a surprising amount of kudos, even among traditional left-wing critics. Indirect association with it enables DaimlerChrysler to claim, reasonably enough, that it is ‘standing shoulder to shoulder with the global community’ in the fight against AIDS.
Expect to see much more of this kind of activity in the future, as multinational companies struggle to take on responsibilities in local markets where governments prove incapable or apathetic.