The online-to-offline (O2O) campaign, launched on 14 January, was set up on the brand's Sina Weibo page. Netizens were invited to register with their detailed personal information and preferred dealers in their areas between 14 and 18 January, and were then eligible to bid on one of the 666 cars starting at 10 am on 18 January. By 24 January, 666 buyers had paid deposits of RMB 1999 online and committed to their purchases.
The Smart car was priced at RMB 128,888 (US$20,715), which is the same price at dealerships in China. MEC was the main agency executing the campaign for Mercedes Benz.
Karen Ho, head of interaction at MEC, told Campaign Asia-Pacific that a cheaper price online would not have been fair for the offline car dealers. In addition, the client preferred to see immediate sales instead of having customers wait for the next online promotion.
Mercedes is the second brand to try out selling its product directly on Sina Weibo, not long after Chinese mobile phone brand Xiaomi sold 50,000 Mi2 phones in less than half a day.
This is a step up from Mercedes' past e-commerce efforts to sell the same Smart car on Tmall in 2011 and 360buy in 2012. Those events sold 238 and 388 cars, respectively.
"Since we have already tried the top two e-commerce platforms, we felt that for 2013 we needed to push the envelope," Ho said.
As much as the client wanted to push sales, it was needed to educate consumers about features of the Smart car, so brand communications was also a must.
That was when Weibo social commerce came into play, as it added social networking elements to the past two purely e-commerce campaigns, according to Ho.
In addition, Sina itself has verticals in Auto and News containing display advertisements that the brand could leverage, compared to the other two platforms.
After Xiaomi's campaign proved that Sina Weibo's payment gateway actually worked, Ho said the agency was less worried. "Most challenges were of a technical nature, of smooth PC and mobile access to the Weibo page, of secure payment finalisations. This campaign was more advanced than others we have done, such as the Kobe Bryant ambassadorship," she said.
Despite the good results, this is not a permanent sales strategy for Mercedes Benz. Rather it was done as a supplement to the brand's existing sales distributorships nationwide, Ho said. After all, Sina Weibo still has the bulk of its users in tier-one cities, she added.
Mercedes' initial strategy was not to take the conventional auto-marketing approach as it wanted to differentiate its Smart car from distant, more expensive competitors such as the BMW Mini and the VW Beetle.
"We would fall into the same car-critic stereotypes where horsepower is being compared, for example, but we wanted to sell the Smart as a functional-vehicle-in-a-city to a young, urban type of target audience," she said.