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Jeep, XM know how to please crowds at NYIAS 2007

When Chrysler planned its Jeep off-road test track for the New York International Auto Show, I don’t think they expected snow flurries in early April. So I have to admit I was a little nervous as my driver approached a steep 18 ft. embankment, noticeably slicked by the morning snow. “You want to have both hands high up on the wheel, thumbs out… and in this weather you want to take it into a low gear as you climb,” the driver informed me. Our Wrangler Limited muscled up the slippery slope with ease, and I escaped unscathed and impressed by the vehicle’s traction. What I was even more impressed with was Jeep’s brilliant turn at brand building.

When NYIAS opens to the public Friday, thousands of attendees will line up for Camp Jeep New York, a 45,000-sq.-ft. course of dirt, gravel, water, rocks, wood, and the intimidating Jeep Mountain. Making its 4th annual appearance at the show, the course is already a staple attraction. But it’s far from being a tired trick: this year, Jeep expects to drive more than 500,000 people through the course, about 14 times as many as last year. This year’s Camp Jeep is bigger, meaner, and dead smack in front of Jacob Javits Center. In a neighboring tent, show-goers can also check out the just-debuted Jeep Liberty, and the sporty Jeep concept Trailhawk.

Jeep’s marketing director John Plecha tells me the promotion is just one annual highlight of an ongoing emphasis on building brand loyalty through experiential marketing. Similar obstacle courses have appeared at events in Miami and Frankfort, and some dealerships are in talks to build their own. This July, Jeep owners can attend a 3-day Camp Jeep event in Charlottesville, Virg. Where instructional off-roading and a performance by Jeep fan Tim McGraw will fire customers up about their beloved brand.

Promotion, entertainment, and education… I nominate Jeep as the best marketer of the New York show because it brought all the ingredients.

My runner-up isn’t a carmaker at all – it’s satellite radio provider XM. I noticed a handful of Sirius banners here and there, but XM is everywhere. At its booth, the newest XM tuners are on display, and a Lexus SUV is fully equipped to show new drivers and even the car companies themselves just how far their technology has come. At two different broadcast stations, XM is taping live shows with its regular on-air personalities, car experts from Car & Driver, and executives from the leading carmakers. A third station at the Nissan stand features an XM hip-hop DJ.

XM says more than half of its new customers each year come in the form on new car buyers, so the company was smart to invest heavily in a strong showing at NYIAS.

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