A legend and a car brand make music together

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J’Something and Hugh Masekela in the fifth episode of the Mercedes GLS campaign

Storytelling is how great advertising has always evoked emotion for great brands. Call it branded entertainment, content marketing, or character-driven content; if it moves you like the collaboration between music legend Hugh Masekela and Mercedes-Benz, which has produced a hit song, it’s winning marketing.

As part of an iconic campaign by Mercedes-Benz South Africa to showcase its range of SUVs released in 2015/2016, a series of short films featuring various local celebrities driving around South Africa in the car brand’s new models have been released via social media over the past year.

The latest and fifth episode of the six-part series for the campaign, “Find Your Best – #EveryTerrain,” features trumpeter Hugh Masekela and MiCasa frontman, J’Something. Their task: to create a song inspired by their journey through the beauty of South Africa and their own interaction.

What has emerged is laden with emotion as Masekela recounts how, when he returned to South Africa after being away so many years, he took a drive through the country to familiarise himself with his heritage. The short film features the stunning scenery of the Garden Route as the two drive their Mercedes-Benz GLS, but also captures the emotion within moving interactions between the two musicians.

The result is a song released mid-August that immediately received airplay and accolades on South African radio stations and will feature on Masekela’s next album. The fact that they have a hit on their hands was not part of the plan, says Selvin Govender, marketing director, Mercedes-Benz Cars. But it is the reason they have now thrown some PR behind it.

The song “Heaven in You” by Masekela and J’Something, has at its heart, Masekela’s love for his homeland despite his exile during the Apartheid years.

Talented personalities

This Mercedes-Benz campaign is a range campaign, whereby all the new model SUVs are showcased during the short films, which are then released via various social media platforms. Each one features two celebs who have 48 hours to produce a “once-of-a-kind creation” which showcases their talents.

Says Govender: “The reality/documentary style offers a candid reflection of a mission to get somewhere, while making something of the experience. These films celebrate our culture and diversity superbly and also showcase the vehicles’ capabilities.”

He emphasised that this content direction was credible, character-driven and engaging and compelling to a broader audience. “We’re highlighting the encompassing beauty of our country and bringing home what South Africans love about our lifestyle while we position Mercedes-Benz SUVs as the best on every terrain.”

Episode 6 is the last in the campaign and will be released in October, featuring the latest SUV, the GLC Coupe and a concept still in the works. Episode 1 featured songbird Lira and comedian Loyisa Gola creating a Zulu song; Episode 2 was filmed in Namibia at the launch of three SUVs with presenter Lerato Kganyago and fashion designer Craig Jacobs on a 48-hour challenge across the desert;  Episode 3 centred on fine dining with Chef Marthinus Ferreira and sport star Mark Boucher on the Wild Coast; and Episode 4 featured lion whisperer Kevin Richardson and filmmaker Adrian Steirn, with a conservation message that went viral, reaching almost a billion people globally and featuring in the New York Times.

J’Something described his road trip with Masekela, saying: “Spending 48 hours with one of my mentors and someone I look up to in the music industry has been the highlight of my career. Listening to Bra Hugh talk about South Africa as his first love, witnessing the beauty he sees in everything – the land, the people, the endless opportunities – and then watching him translate this passion into music was awe-inspiring.

“‘Heaven In You’ is more than just a great song; I wanted to write a love letter from Hugh Masekela for South Africa that captured his relationship with the country and the respect, love and gratitude I have for this land. I hope this song will inspire people to love and appreciate every curve of this beautiful country.”

Storytelling

In an interview with Screen Africa, Govender says the range campaign came from head office in Germany, but that the storytelling concept putting local celebrities in the SUVs and sending them into some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, was conceptualised with their local agencies, primarily Net#work BBDO and Gingko Agency, led by Adrian Steirn, who headed up the project. iProspects is the digital agency with OMG handling media buying.

Much of what was featured in the final films was story-led and what came out of the interaction between the characters. “Obviously we go through a storyboard of what we want to achieve, but the personalities and on-screen persona is very different and we tried to let it play out and kept it going if it fit the storyline,” says Govender.

“We had no clue we were going to get a hit song out of it. We didn’t ask J to go out there and create a hit song. We wanted him to create a song for Hugh Masekela. J then came to us and said he thought we had a hit there!”

Govender says each episode of the campaign focussed on a particular lifestyle aspect that the Merc brand touches on and by distributing the content to the right channels, they hoped to engage with future and prospective customers and invoke a sense of belonging, our heritage and help them find a match in the Merc brand.

“But more than that, engaging with the audience with local, authentic, great content, was important. Great content is what people are after. This was the reason we put money behind a campaign that people would relate to. And create a relationship with the brand through easily relatable protagonists,” Govender adds.

As far as the numbers go, Govender says the views and consumption of the short episodes of the campaign so far were excellent, and had led to a spike in the awareness of their products, leads and requests for more information.

“We are very pleased. The brand loved what it evoked out there in the world. We set ourselves a few KPIs and we are very happy. The brand is the strongest it has been and I like to think it is because we are able to connect with our audience through strong, relevant content, not just content to fill up the digital space.”

Govender hopes viewers will find the films inspiring. “The fact that our filmmakers were able to capture the essence of this country, the most amazing scenery… it’s a constant reminder of how great this country is.”

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Louise Marsland
Louise Marsland is an editor, journalist and columnist in the media and marketing communications industry in South Africa, who has been writing about the industry for over two decades as a former editor of publications: AdVantage, Marketing Mix and Bizcommunity.com. She currently writes extensively about industry trends and consumer insight.

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