Janis Joplin, Material Girl

Mercedes-Benz has a new TV spokeswoman. She's a boozy rocker who died of a heroin overdose 25 years ago. Her pitch goes like this:

Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz? My friends all drive Porsches; I must make amends. Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends. Oh, Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz?

Few baby boomers can forget Janis Joplin's song. And the a capella piece makes for an effective backdrop to film of Mercedes $30,000 C-class and $50,000 E-class models cruising country roads.

But isn't a Woodstock-generation sendup of capitalism a strange way to sell a luxury automobile? Mercedes doesn't see anything odd about it. "Hey, whatever the song might have meant back then, it's a different time, it's a different car," says Lee Garfinkel, 40, chairman of New York ad agency Lowe & Partners/SMS, which produced the commercial. It bought the rights to the song from Joplin's estate and from Sony Music Entertainment.

Mercedes' motive is simple. After lowering the sticker on its cars during the past 18 months, the company now wants to appeal to car buyers who are younger and hipper than its

current median customer--a 51-year-old male. "We want to build equity with a new generation," says Andrew C. Goldberg, 36, an executive at Mercedes-Benz of North America Inc.

The commercial is the latest in a series of ads Mercedes began airing last fall. Aside from appealing to new customers, the campaign is supposed to set the stage for new, youth-oriented roadsters and sport-utility models Mercedes plans to bring out in two years. Both are designed to lure 35- to 45-year-old luxury-car buyers away from the likes of BMW and Audi.

"IT'S A RIOT." The ad strikes a chord with boomers such as Mark S. Maymar, 38, an executive with San Francisco's Compass Capital Corp., who bought his first Mercedes last year. "It's a riot; my wife sang right along with the ad" when the couple first heard it, he says.

That's the sort of reaction that Mercedes is counting on. And, in the end, maybe the auto maker's adoption of the tune was inevitable. After all, few companies figure so prominently in the lyrics of a generational anthem. Still, it's not hard to picture Janis rocking and rolling over in her grave.

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