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THE CUTTING EDGE

A Digital Ed Sullivan Is Guest on Mercedes Ad

September 08, 1997|DENISE GELLENE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Mercedes-Benz of North America is launching its M-Class sport-utility vehicle with a commercial featuring computer-enhanced images of legendary television personality Ed Sullivan.

The commercial, to air next Sunday, blends new footage of acrobats, plate spinners and other acts with digitally enhanced clips of Sullivan to recreate a 60-second snippet of "The Ed Sullivan Show," which last aired in 1971 after a 23-year run.

Sullivan, who died in 1974, has appeared posthumously in ads for McDonald's restaurants and Cadbury chocolates, but the Mercedes spot is the first commercial in which Sullivan's image was altered by computer, according to the Sullivan estate.

To create the spot, images of the TV host were extracted from episodes of his show. Special-effects artists at Digital Domain in Venice were able to digitally manipulate his image so that Sullivan appears to be speaking, although it is actually an impressionist's voice.

The new spot is a continuation of Mercedes' "Fall in Love" advertising campaign, which makes heavy use of nostalgia in an attempt to give the remote automobile brand a lighter, yet still sophisticated image.

Other commercials have used black-and-white footage of classic Mercedes cars while a print ad depicts Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe with a Mercedes logo as a beauty mark.

Mercedes is betting that the spot will strike a chord with baby boomers who spent their Sunday nights watching acts ranging from ventriloquists to the Beatles and Elvis Presley on Sullivan's program.

"Ed Sullivan introduced some of the most incredible acts in history," said Lee Garfinkel, co-chairman and creative director of Lowe Partners/SMS, which created the spot. "Who better than Ed Sullivan to appear in a Mercedes commercial and introduce the car?"

Automobile industry analysts said Mercedes' lighthearted advertising approach, along with a strategy dedicated to producing more affordable cars, has been working for the auto maker, attracting younger buyers in their 40s who had been priced out of Mercedes cars. The unit of Germany's Daimler-Benz saw sales surge 44% to 90,844 cars in 1996. This year it expects to break 100,000 for the first time.

Mercedes is spending $35 million, or about one-third of its U.S. advertising budget, to promote the ML320, the first brawny four-wheeler built by Mercedes. The $33,950 vehicle, a competitor to top-of-the-line Jeep Grand Cherokees and Ford Explorers, is seen as a test of whether Mercedes can reach into a broader market without hurting its upscale image.

But some analysts say Mercedes has little to worry about. They report that the car, which begins hitting showrooms this week, is virtually sold out on the strength of orders. "Let there be no doubt, the M-Class has success written all over it," said James N. Hall, vice president of industry analysis for consulting firm of Auto Pacific.

Mercedes declined to say what it spent on the Sullivan ad. It will make its debut just before 8.p.m. on CBS, the same time and network as Sullivan's show.

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