The compact, angular shape of the Mercedes Smart Car may not be mainstream, but it sure attracts a crowd. That, and the vehicle's 50-mpg rating and hard-to-get reputation, were behind Lake Oswego, Ore.–based Renaissance Homes' decision to offer a Smart Car to buyers of 29 finished homes scattered among seven area communities. A one-month television and newspaper advertising campaign about the giveaway, including four, 30-second spots during the Super Bowl XLI pre-game show, consolidated the builder's message rather than trying to market the homes separately. The ads also leveraged the cars' fuel efficiency to underscore the builder's in-house Living Green standards for sustainable construction—a message that resonates among Northwest residents.

Working with a local Mercedes dealer that supplied cars for each community's model-home complex on weekends, Renaissance Homes saw sales traffic jump 250 percent during the month of the campaign, launched this past February. Though the initial goal of selling-off standing inventory fell short—only 6 of the 29 Smart Car homes closed escrow by the end of the promotion—overall home sales far exceeded projections. In fact, Renaissance sold a company-record 48 homes that month—thanks to the Smart Car.

ART OBJECT: Renaissance Homes' President Randy Sebastian leveraged the Mercedes Smart Car, labeled  by a local dealer as “the most endearing, fun-to-drive, environmentally  friendly, and safe micro-car on the planet,” to significantly  boost traffic and sales at several Portland, Ore., communities.
ART OBJECT: Renaissance Homes' President Randy Sebastian leveraged the Mercedes Smart Car, labeled by a local dealer as “the most endearing, fun-to-drive, environmentally friendly, and safe micro-car on the planet,” to significantly boost traffic and sales at several Portland, Ore., communities.

“We were literally overrun with people anxious to see the car and our homes,” says Randy Sebastian, Renaissance's president. “The car is an art object that people stop and ask about.” For the half-dozen home buyers who bought Smart Car homes, Renaissance sent them to the Mercedes dealer with a credit amount for a base model, to which they could add options on their own dime.

CAMPAIGN DETAILS Program: Smart Car giveaway; Builder: Renaissance Homes, Lake Oswego, Ore.; Advertising agency: White, Wykoff & Co., Portland, Ore.; Cost: $150,000 (six cars)

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Los Angeles, CA.