Smart made its debut in China's small car market in 2009. But despite relatively high awareness and consumer enquiries, the car brand had not converted awareness into sales. Approaching the year-end, owner Mercedes-Benz wanted to further build brand awareness and grow sales, all within a three-month timeframe.
The idea of a traditional sales-support campaign was rejected. Instead, Mercedes-Benz partnered with Taobao.com, China's largest e-commerce platform, and revolutionised the concept of buying a car by becoming the first car manufacturer to sell cars directly online. The campaign kicked off with smart cars going on sale on Taobao.com in a 'Group Buy' promotion, which meant that the first 200 people who signed up to buy a smart Car would receive 23% off its retail price. Further momentum was gathered though a series of 'One second buy' promotions that gave people the opportunity to purchase a car for US $0.15. Throughout the campaign, the top 20 Taobao store owners put on fashion shoots with smart to further drive awareness.
The first-of-its-kind campaign received widespread discussion in web communities, and PR exposure across all media channels, including on CCTV and CNN.com. The 200 discounted vehicles were sold within 3 hours and 25 minutes; sales in September rose 106% compared with the previous month and in October a further 963 cars were sold.