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A man wipes down a Mercedes Benz EQC 400 4Matic electric vehicle at the Canadian International AutoShow in Toront on Feb. 13, 2019.MARK BLINCH/Reuters

Across Canada today there are 59 Mercedes-Benz dealerships. Canada is the tenth-largest market for Mercedes globally. And even though sales were down 7 per cent year-over-year in 2019, Mercedes-Benz has been Canada’s top-selling luxury manufacturer for six straight years.

So why did it pull out of the country’s largest auto show, the 2020 Canadian International AutoShow (CIAS) in Toronto, and the 2020 Montreal International Auto Show (MIAS)?

According to Brian Fulton, president and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz Canada, it’s a case of changing market and reach, which is altering the way manufacturers are marketing the driving experience. “How can we get our message to the market in a more modern way?” he says. “We’ll revisit and review our strategy again. We haven’t said we’ll never do it again. If we need to make changes – not necessarily going back into the auto show – we’ll evaluate how this year turns out, and we’ll review it for 2021,” he added.

It seems that for now, Canadian auto shows aren’t the answer. Instead, new avenues for enhancing the brand, such as inviting social-media influencers to driving events, seems to be the way to reach new customers. One of those events was a recent winter driving day on Lake Winnipeg in Gimli, Man. “The Gimli Winter Experience was an incredible example of how Mercedes-Benz Canada can allocate our resources to develop fully integrated campaigns that are rooted in exhilarating, one-of-a-kind brand experiences. Our decision to focus on this new type of initiative is more about our strategy to reach audiences in new ways than any other consideration,” Fulton says. And it was clear who owned the ice at that event – the influencers. Of the 60 participants, most were influencers. (Mercedes-Benz later issued a response noting that the split was equal between social media content creators and journalists.)

They weren’t car aficionados, but they had large social-media followings, some numbering in the tens of millions. But it’s not just Mercedes; other manufacturers such as General Motors, Ford and Volvo are turning to influencers and bloggers to target a new audience.

“We’ve had great success with our social media partnerships,” says Matt Girgis, managing director of Volvo Canada. “Part of the company’s strategy is to target a new mix of audiences, develop our own events and participate in engaging events such as the Interior Design Show Toronto, where we showcased the new XC60 T8 plug-in hybrid SUV.”

Volvo has opted out of auto shows globally and at home. “Automatic attendance at traditional industry events is no longer viable; we must tailor our communications based on how the options complement our messaging, timing and the nature of the technology we are presenting. The ongoing change in the car industry is creating new audiences for Volvo Cars and new ways of bringing products to the market,” Girgis adds.

For Mercedes-Benz, one show that’s not on the chopping block is CES, formerly the Consumer Electronics Show, in Las Vegas. “You look at CES, and you look at the technology – at the transformation that’s been going on within the automotive business. When people stepped into their car 10-15 years ago, they were void of the life they were living with their iPhones. Every consumer wants to continue their life in their car. They don’t want to miss a beat when they’re stuck in traffic for an hour.”

For an increasing number of manufacturers, including Hyundai, BMW, Audi and Mercedes, CES is a growing platform for showcasing the auto technology of the future. CES also reaches a larger market than the CIAS. “CES is an important venue for Mercedes-Benz to reach different global audiences and not only share our leading in-car technology but also our broader vision for modern sustainable luxury,” Fulton says.

Mercedes is also focusing on connected cars and innovative technology such as the Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, a new in-car infotainment system similar to Amazon’s Alexa, as part of its marketing strategy going forward. It’s a move designed to reinforce Mercedes’ marketing strategy as a forward-thinking technology and luxury brand – one that’s focused on attracting millennials and a younger, more tech-savvy buyer to the brand.

“We have our core middle-aged group of E-Class and S-Class buyers, but we’re always trying to bring new people and the younger generation to the brand.” Fulton points to MBUX launching in the more affordable A-Class, before it went into the S-Class. “The younger generation is very important to us, and coming out with product geared towards a younger generation, from a price point and from a technology standpoint, is important to us.”

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include a response from Mercedes-Benz regarding the attendee split at its Gimli, Ont. event.

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