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Benz wheels 'em in with contest

Contests to win new vehicles aren't new, but the fact Mercedes-Benz is using a smartphone gaming app to offer up a car and connect with a wider range of consumers is a curious move for a luxury brand.

Drive & Seek – – is billed as an "interactive, location-based gaming app" that borrowed its premise almost entirely from the short promo film of the same name made to show off the new 2012 C-Class Coupe.

For all intents and purposes, the "game" in the app is nothing more than an ongoing ad with limited shelf life. But the scope is somewhat limited as well. In order to play, participants have to be within 100 km of a Mercedes-Benz dealership, and it only works with the iPhone and Android, not the BlackBerry or any other smartphone platform.

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After downloading the app and registering your contact info, you're automatically entered in the contest, even if you don't participate in any of the gaming aspects afterwards. To raise your odds of winning the Coupe, you need to find virtual briefcases laid throughout the area you happen to be in, which are no less than 50 and no more than 500 metres away from your location. Once you get close, the app switches to sonar to help you track it.

Drive & Seek uses the GPS and Google Maps in your phone to track and uncover the briefcases, which are then "unlocked" and redeemed for points. Those points are then used to increase the number of entries, with the top 125 scoreboard leaders getting extra points. Being active on Facebook can help point totals further.

Despite talking about using social networking to connect with a wider audience, Mercedes-Benz opted to only utilize Facebook, instead of including Twitter and Google+ into the mix.

All of this is conceptually Canadian because it's the only country where this interactive contest is under way. The app was designed by a Toronto ad agency, and the idea and implementation were entirely under Mercedes-Benz Canada's auspices.

What's more interesting about this move is that it could be a precursor to how auto makers advertise directly to smartphone users. Between using apps and social media and waving the carrot of a new fully-loaded C-Coupe, Mercedes-Benz is betting that running a contest that makes use of a smartphone's built-in capabilities is better than doing it the old-fashioned way.

Except a lot of this requires commitment from the participants. This is a four-week process with an untold number of people getting involved at varying degrees. To add some incentive, the auto maker has thrown in other prizes, but hasn't revealed what they actually are.

There has also been no comment on whether this will be part of a wider strategy to make the brand more accessible and interactive than it's been previously. But chances are we'll be seeing more of this type of thing from auto makers as smartphone and tablet usage continues to increase.

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