The last thing Drew Davis expected when he bought a Chevrolet Cruze was a dinner party.
But a few months after he bought his car, he got a phone call from a marketing firm in Alexandria. They said they wanted to buy dinner for Davis and his friends.
So he rounded up 10 of his buddies from grad school and invited them to T.G.I. Fridays in Fairfax, where Red Peg Marketing had arranged to pick up a $200 tab for the evening.
Davis ordered the steak and seafood platter. He and his friends also had appetizers, desserts and “cocktails all night.”
It was, the 26-year-old said, “the best car purchase of my life. It made my summer.”
The Cruze Warming Parties, as they’re called, are one part of the three-pronged approach Red Peg is using to drum up advertising for a group of 28 Washington-area Chevrolet dealers.
The guerilla marketing tactics the firm is employing are a far cry from traditional print and television ads. They include “street teams” that park Chevrolet cars near establishments like Starbucks, Domino’s Pizza and Potbelly Sandwich Works. Customers who swing by to look at the cars are rewarded with a gift certificate for a free coffee or meal.
“For somebody to experience a car in exchange for a $4 coffee — that’s a good investment,” said Brad Nierenberg, the president and chief executive of Red Peg. “You have to do the little things right.”
The Chevrolet Cruze, a compact sedan introduced in 2010, was the best-selling car in the United States in June, according to Autodata. It was the first time an American-made car had topped the charts in years, and a particularly sweet victory for the brand after the $50 billion government bailout of General Motors in 2009.
Last week, three Red Peg staffers dressed in polo shirts and khaki shorts were camped out at the Arlington County Fair. The Chevy tent, which sat between signs advertising racing piglets and “steak in a sac,” featured two cars — the Cruze and the electric-powered Volt — as well as a pair of 60-inch touch screens that gave fair-goers a taste of “augmented reality.”
On one screen, fair-goers could pretend to test-drive cars by waving pieces of cardstock in front of the television camera. On the other, they could play Chevrolet trivia games (“How many MPG does the 2011 Malibu get on the highway?”) and design their own cars — which could be immediately uploaded to a user’s Facebook profile.
Those efforts on Facebook and other social media sites are crucial, Nierenberg said, adding that “they help us create thousands of unique interactions at once.”
“Social media is all about ‘look at me, I’m traveling,’ ‘look at me, I got engaged,’” he added. “Now it can be ‘look at me, I got this new car.’”
The local marketing campaigns for the Cruze began last fall. Although Harry Criswell, who owns a Chevrolet dealership in Gaithersburg, says it’s too soon to tell whether the efforts have led to a rise in sales, he says “we’re getting thousands of leads from these events.”
Criswell would not comment on how much the local dealers are paying Red Peg, but said it was “about the same” as the $3 million in newspaper advertising he once took out.
“So many times, people might think ‘oh I’ll send a thank you e-mail,’ ” Nierenberg said. “But that’s not enough. You have to create an experience.”
For Davis, that experience included dozens of balloons and “a whole table that was decked out like a kid’s birthday party.” Red Peg also organized a car-naming game in which Davis’s friends took turns suggesting monikers for his new purchase.
They tossed out ideas like like Lady Mobile and The Ivory Badger.
In the end, he named his new car Penelope. Penelope Cruze.