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Poetry in Motion
With the City of Light as its backdrop, carmaker Adam Opel AG stages a series of press events featuring slam-poetry performances and seemingly spontaneous drive-bys to launch its newest model at the Paris Motor Show. By Lena Valenty
Company: Adam Opel AG
Event: Opel ADAM at the Paris Mondial de L'Automobile (aka Paris Motor Show)
Objectives: Introduce the ADAM to 300 international journalists and bloggers, and be one of the top 10 most visible cars at the international show.
Strategy: Host a series of unconventional, off-site product-launch events the day before the show's official press day to ensure journalists' full attention.
Tactics: Enlist multilingual poets to incorporate key messages about the car's brand identity into impromptu performances that end with dramatic drive-bys at sidewalk cafés in Paris.
Results: Attracted 300 journalists spread across eight performances and hit No. 4 on the list of the 20 most talked about cars at the Paris Motor Show.
Creative Agency: Invnt LLC, www.invnt.com
Budget: $100,000 – $199,000
uthentic artistic expression is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think "miniature car." It's also not the phrase one would use to describe product launches at large automobile shows, where sleek, shiny objects take precedence over originality and vulnerability. That is exactly why Russelsheim, Germany-based carmaker Adam Opel AG (aka Opel) chose to forgo the traditional press event in favor of impromptu street performances when it launched the ADAM at the 2012 Paris Mondial de L'Automobile (otherwise known as the Paris Motor Show).

Theorizing that once journalists have seen one auto show, they've certainly seen them all, Opel sought a new approach to garner attention for its first entry into the European miniature-car market. Most launch events take place at prescheduled times and on the trade show floor, where droves of journalists pile in, eat croissants, and listen to buttoned-up auto executives tout the physical features of their newest four-wheelers. That works fine if you have a decent time slot and exhibit space – Opel had neither. What's more, the car company felt this type of predictable launch event didn't fit with the ADAM's brand identity. "The ADAM is an urban car, and we wanted to present it in its genuine, urban environment," says Jean-Philippe Kempf, manager of international product and brand communications at Opel. "We wanted to create a certain visual impact, provide true artistic value, and offer a sense of spontaneity."

Sounds like a piece of croquembouche, right? Well, not exactly. Opel wanted to accomplish all this off the show floor, before the official press day, amid the bustling streets of Paris, and as a surprise to a specific – yet unsuspecting – group of journalists. To iron out the details associated with such a spontaneous and artistic product launch in one of Europe's busiest metropolises, Kempf and his team turned to Invnt LLC, a New York-based event-marketing firm. "The ADAM is designed to appeal to a young and young-minded demographic, and the brand is based on individuality, creativity, and personal expression," says Jerry Deeney, director of global accounts at Invnt. "We needed an idea for the launch that would be completely unexpected, and therefore memorable. We pitched a few ideas based on this concept of spontaneity, including the winning one, which happened to be slam poetry."

While the term "slam poetry" might evoke visions of William Shatner performing his riveting spoken-word version of "Rocket Man," there is no denying that this particular performance art is memorable, engaging, and powerful. And that's exactly the impact Invnt and Opel hoped to harness for the ADAM debut. But instead of featuring Elton John lyrics, the poetry would comprise phrases that aligned with the car's brand identity and appeal to its target audience.

Speak Easy
As soon as the performance avenue was decided, attention quickly turned to finding the right people to attend the event – journalists and performers alike. Of the 13,000 media representatives signed up to attend the Paris Motor Show, Invnt and Opel set their sights on a core group of 300 automotive, lifestyle, and feature journalists, as well as influencers and bloggers, that happened to match the car's target demographic. Since the Paris Motor Show is an international event, this audience comprised people from all over the world – a tricky proposition when spoken word is the marketing medium of choice.

To ensure the key messages that Kempf wanted to disseminate via the slam-poetry performance wouldn't get lost in translation, Invnt went on the hunt for several multilingual poets that could spin sick rhymes in a total of seven different languages. As luck would have it, Kempf personally knew a handful of slam poets, and Deeney was familiar with an active group based in Reims, about 90 minutes northeast of Paris. What's more, these poets hailed from several countries, deflating any potential language barriers and ensuring journalists would be able to hear Opel's message loud and clear regardless of their nationality.

When it came to drafting the actual poetry, Opel and Invnt adopted a laissez-faire attitude and decided to let the artists do the talking. "We briefed the poets about the ADAM and some values and attributes," Kempf says. "Not about technologies used for our infotainment system, for example, but about how the ADAM helps you connect with people, explore the world around you, and discover new things."

Not handicapped by awkward corporate jargon, the poets wrote proposals that touched on the key points Kempf gave them. "We asked them to find a balance between languages, so we could have a sequence that went from 30 seconds or so of one language, into another language, and then another," Kempf says. "That way, the audience wouldn't get bored if they didn't understand what was being said in a certain section." The result was a high-energy performance that could seamlessly transition from one language to the next without ever missing a beat.

French Press
With the artists booked and the script in hand, Kempf and Deeney began the next step: site selection. To maximize exposure, separate the event from the other press junkets taking place at the convention center, and appeal to its young, urban target, the pair needed to get creative. "Journalists are always looking for an interesting story to tell," Deeney says. "But we also wanted to give them an experience to write about."

Though the slam poetry alone might be worthy of a media mention or two, Opel and Invnt needed to up the artistic ante to achieve the kind of full-scale buzz they wanted. So rather than sticking the poets in a dark theater and pulling up a curtain, they decided to pick a performance location off – or rather, on – the beaten path: a sidewalk café. Not only were chic cafés the perfect guise under which to attract journalists (everyone likes a free lunch), but also the outdoor venues meant that Opel could arrange for the cars to be driven past the captive audience at some point during the performance. After all, the vehicles needed to play a vital role in their own launch, or the whole thing was going to go the way of Gerard Depardieu's movie career.

Eventually, the search produced two strategic locations – Brasserie Chez Francis near the Eiffel Tower, and Café Beaubourg outside the Pompidou Centre. "We carefully selected the cafés because they had iconic Paris landmarks in the background," Deeney says. "The hope was that, when given the choice between a shot of a car in a convention center and a shot of a car in front of the Eiffel Tower, most media outlets writing about the Paris Motor Show would choose the latter." The locations also impressed Corporate Event Awards judges, one of whom said, "You have a mini car, in Europe, in a really congested city. That's the perfect location for this type of event and audience."

Having two event sites effectively doubled the number of performances possible and allowed Opel to divvy up the 300 journalists into 10 groups of about 30 people based on languages spoken – a feat of logistical strength all its own considering attendees would be flying, driving, and taking public transportation to Paris from all corners of the world – and at all different times. "We tapped our local public-relations managers to reach out to the journalists we wanted to invite," Kempf says. "After talking to them via phone or emailing them to figure out what would work best with their schedules, the PR contacts then assigned each attendee a time slot based on their flight and train arrivals, distance traveled, language spoken, etc. As you can imagine, it was quite the undertaking."

Five performances would take place at both locations, and while each of them would be multilingual, the length of time spent speaking different languages would change up based on the audience. "When we had an audience from Germany, the performance included more German," Deeney says. "When we were joined by the Italian press, our poets used more Italian. The poets tailored each performance to the attendees."

In addition to having prime Parisian backdrops conducive to photo ops and featuring street accessibility for the ADAMs, the café settings were understated enough that journalists wouldn't suspect anything upon their scheduled arrival. As far as they would know, they were attending a typical press luncheon the day before the Paris Motor Show opened. Sacre bleu, were they wrong.

As attendees arrived at their designated locations for what they thought was a cup of espresso and a crepes suzette with a side of marketing speak, a handful of slam poets were seated among the crowd, "mic'd up" and patiently waiting for their cue to spring into linguistic action. "We had to make sure guests didn't see anything from our setup before the event," Kempf says. "So we couldn't use a screen or monitor of any kind, and we had to hide the speakers behind bushes. But we also had to be ready to go as soon as the performances started."

Pop-Up Poetry
Seemingly out of nowhere, a poet stood up and passionately recited the following: "Eyes open. Can't sleep. I've woken. Heart beats. Pace quickens. Focus." Intense eye contact, hand gestures, and serious style caught everyone's attention. Pulsating music escaped through hidden speakers and filled the air as another poet stood up and recited an emotion-filled verse, this time in German, then another in Italian, and another in French. The journalists quickly figured out that something special was taking place. After about 10 minutes of some serious rhymes, the performance eased up, and the momentum faded. Just then, drivers in ADAMs (there are three versions – the Glam, Jam, and fittingly, Slam) zoomed up to the café and screeched to a stop in a dramatic flourish a la "The Italian Job."

As soon as the last poet overemphasized the last syllable, Opel executives took the stage for a more conventional, if brief, product spiel. Armed with note cards, they extolled the benefits of the ADAM and gave auto journalists the sound bytes they'd need to craft stories and reviews. In keeping with the artistic-expression vibe of the event – and to continue the spontaneity established by the pop-up poets – those talking points were reiterated via handwritten notes on large white poster boards that appeared at different times throughout the speech. Hoisted up by hired actors dressed in black and standing behind shrubbery, the key messages played second fiddle to the red, yellow, and blue ADAMs parked along the sidewalk.

While all this was happening, the audience busily snapped photos and recorded videos on their smartphones, instantly uploading them to various social-media sites and news outlets. Professional photographers wielding cameras also captured the scene as it unfolded, increasing the chances that the photos would go viral. Opel and Invnt hoped that this would all help the launch become one of the most talked about events at the Paris Motor Show – and it was.

Entering a new market is no walk in the park, and it's even harder when your product is literally a miniature car among a field of SUVs and luxury sedans. But by straying from the typical press-event formula and getting a jump on the competition, Invnt and Opel successfully made a lasting impression on a modest investment. "This threw away the rules, and it was effective," one judge said. "They met all their goals in a novel, interesting way. I wish I could have been there to see it in person."

Indeed, all 300 invited journalists showed up for the slam-poetry performances, and the photos and stories written about the launch helped the fun-size ADAM accelerate to No. 4 on the list of top 20 most visible cars at the Paris Motor Show – a benchmark that reflects the total number of media mentions generated at the show for each model, and factors in the reach of each medium as well as the size and prominence of the story.

"Media guests have seen and done everything, and it's nice to see that you can score big results with a low-budget, low-tech performance when you invest a lot of creativity and trust," Kempf says. "They're still talking about it." And with that, Opel safely bid adieu to the competition.

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