We all know that user-generated content (UGC) is a great way of reaching and engaging with your target market. It is perhaps most effective of all when it comes to millennials, whose social immersion in the online world is often more complete than their elder counterparts.

For Mercedes-Benz, social provided the solution to one of the car manufacturer’s most long-standing challenges: how to market its vehicles to the younger generation.

Mercedes-Benz needed to shift the perception of ‘old luxury’ quickly - Highlight to share -

The issue was not a difficult one to understand. As a maker of luxury cars for the distinguished person, its vehicles often failed to capture the imagination of the upwardly mobile millennial, who perceived the cars as either A) too expensive, or B) something to aspire to later in life. For now, other car brands offered a greater level of ‘cool’, for a much lower price point. Mercedes-Benz barely even entered the youth’s field of vision.

However with the launch of its more accessibly priced CLA range of vehicles, Mercedes-Benz needed to shift the perception of ‘old luxury’ quickly, and it found a very efficient social apparatus in the form of Instagram.

Mercedes-Benz’s “Take the Wheel” campaign was a masterclass in how social influencers and UGC can be used to engage a new demographic and communicate a particular message of ‘cool’. To quickly build some online social gravitas, Mercedes loaned CLAs to some Instagram users with a large following, and asked them to document their journeys through the photo-sharing platform. It was a shrewd move on the part of the brand, given that over 50% of people aged 18-34 are active users of the site, placing it well ahead of even Facebook and Twitter.

As an added incentive to the Instagram photographers, the person who managed to accumulate the most number of likes for their images would be allowed to keep their CLA, and that’s where the real genius of the campaign resided. What better way to ensure a steady pipeline of stylish, fun, experience-focused, millennial-specific images of Mercedes-Benz vehicles, and thus banish the reputation of ‘stuffy-elitism’ that the brand had developed?

The increase in reach to its target market is almost impossible to quantify, but considering that Mercedes-Benz had around 111,000 Instagram followers at the beginning of the campaign, compared to 1 million+ for some of its enlisted influencers, it’s fair to say that the campaign’s potential reach was multiplied many hundreds of times over.

And did it work?

In short, yes. A few highlights:

On Instagram, the images received some 87 million organic impressions accompanied by two million likes, which translates to an impressive engagement rate of around 3% on likes alone. The campaign managed to spark an energetic social conversation with a combined 549,000 mentions on Facebook and Twitter.

The campaign reached its climax in August 2013, and at that time the Mercedes-Benz USA site experienced its highest level of traffic ever, with over one million people viewing CLA-related content, over 340,000 people using the ‘build your own’ feature, and a record-breaking sales launch, with the youngest demographic in the company’s history.

Of course it’s impossible to say for certain whether this success was a direct result of the Instagram UGC campaign, but it would be a fair assumption to make.

Check out the video case study, and consider whether Mercedes-Benz could have managed it without its ingenious Instagram campaign.

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Cars becoming cool