Mercedes Pulls Merkley + Partners Work, Drops Misleading ‘Built in USA’ Claims After Truth in Advertising Query

By Patrick Coffee 

This may come as a complete shock to you, but sometimes clients make statements in their ads that are not completely true.

Yesterday the group Truth In Advertising (TINA), which we recommend you follow and read regularly, reported that Mercedes-Benz had abruptly halted a campaign promoting its 2019 Sprinter van model after the organization made inquiries into that effort’s central claim that the product is “Built in the USA.”

According to a letter replete with .gov links that TINA sent to the brand’s general counsel last month, this classification is incorrect, because 90% of a 2,300-plus sample of vans available for sale online were imported directly from Germany. Most impressively, TINA made this determination using the vehicle identification number on each van.

In 2016, Mercedes made a show of opening a new plant in North Charleston, S.C., as a way to both create American jobs and avoid the so-called “chicken tax” tariff on the light truck class. That announcement came during the latter stages of a contentious presidential election in which at least one candidate threatened to punish companies for making products overseas.

Some Sprinter vans have been built in South Carolina since that plant opened in late 2018; here is the very first.

However, as noted in TINA’s letter, the vast majority of Sprinters are merely assembled there. They do not, therefore, meet FTC requirements to be marketed as “built in the USA” or “made in the USA,” which require products to have few or no components of foreign origin.

“If I Built a Van” by Merkley + Partners, which debuted late last year, was central to the campaign.

The effort also included radio ads, web pages and social media posts that made similar claims. TINA warned Mercedes-Benz that it would alert federal authorities if the company did not revise these within a week.

MB appears to have done just that, pulling the ad above off the air and editing claims on its websites while also updating the copy in the radio spot.

A client representative provided us with the same statement given to TINA several hours after this post went live. “MBUSA is modifying the current marketing campaign to focus on the jobs and capital invested in the United States,” the quote read. “MBUSA is proud of its investments in the United States and has addressed the concerns raised by Truthinadvertising by modifying the content of some of its marketing material. As always, MBUSA desires to accurately describe its products and technology to its valued customers.”

A spokesperson for Merkley + Partners, which continues to produce a great share of the client’s work despite last year’s Publicis digital win, did not respond to our requests for comment.

“Mercedes-Benz engineered an entire marketing campaign on the false premise that its Sprinter van was ‘built in the USA,’” said executive director Bonnie Patten. “While the changes Mercedes-Benz made are welcome, there’s no question consumers were misled by the automaker’s deceptive marketing.”

Again, read the full report here.