Chill at Gimli’s Ice Garage

Built by Benz for its winter sporting event, frozen venue will be centrepiece of town's Ice Festival

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GIMLI — Manitoba’s Icelandic outpost has found itself a new identity for a few months each winter: an epicentre of a global carmaker’s experiential marketing efforts.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/01/2020 (1043 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

GIMLI — Manitoba’s Icelandic outpost has found itself a new identity for a few months each winter: an epicentre of a global carmaker’s experiential marketing efforts.

Now in its fourth year, AMG Winter Sporting, a program by Mercedes-Benz, has been bringing hundreds of guests each year from across North America to wine, dine and — when sober, of course — race luxury automobiles on a chunk of frozen Lake Winnipeg. Aside from the revenue the program generates, a more important component is building brand loyalty and excitement amongst customers.

“We want people to come, enjoy the program and then go home and have Mercedes-Benz be part of their dinner conversations,” said Virginie Aubert, Mercedes-Benz Canada vice-president of marketing.

 

With about a couple dozen Mercedes-Benz AMG models, guests learn the ultimate lessons in car control — essentially, learning to control a car when there is almost no control.

SUPPLIED At night, the Ice Garage lights up the snow-covered beach.

This year, Mercedes is amping up the experiential marketing component. It built an Ice Garage and held a concert last week as part of its global Garage Gigs program, which has well-known bands performing in unusual locations. Headlining the gig was Canadian rock band the Arkells, best known for their 2014 breakout album High Noon, with Said the Whale as the opening act.

Constructed of approximately 40,000 kilograms of ice, comprising 345 blocks, the garage will live on for the winter as a place AMG guests can warm up and grab a mug of cocoa, and will also be pressed into service for Gimli’s Ice Festival in early March. A monolith of ice featuring the Mercedes-Benz tristar logo will keep the brand’s presence going long after AMG Winter Sporting has left for the season.

SUPPLIED Customers take part in what is essentially a PhD program in winter driving, learning to control a car when there’s almost no control available.

Aubert said carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz, are all getting very good at traditional forms of marketing — television commercials, brochures, magazine and newspaper advertising — and to stand out, manufacturers have to start taking different approaches.

“The goal for my team was to take this opportunity and really stretch it to the next level,” Aubert said. “When we see our initiatives are rooted in experiences, we find it’s been incredibly impactful in our campaigns and has generated so much more brand love.

“This is our signature AMG event here and this year, we thought we’d add some flair to it, you know, with the Ice Garage and our Garage Gigs.”

AMG Winter Sporting is an extension of the program Mercedes has run on a lake in Sweden. Gimli’s is the first such program outside Europe.

As head instructor Danny Kok says, Gimli checks all the boxes for the program: it’s centrally located in North America, within easy driving distance of a major airport, has the hotel and amenities AMG guests would expect and, most importantly, consistent ice conditions for the duration of the event, which runs from late January to late February.

For safety, the program requires an ice depth of 40 centimetres. Current average ice thickness in Gimli is 100 centimetres. 

Kelly Taylor / Winnipeg Free Press Mercedes-Benz Canada president Brian Fulton and vice-president of marketing Virginie Aubert say Gimli is a key cog in the marketing program.

The cost of the program runs from $2,995 per person for a corporate package to $4,595 for a more intensive learning experience. It attracts approximately 200 customers each year from as far away as Mexico, many are return customers. Kok said last year, one guest attended the Gimli program and then flew to Sweden to repeat the experience only to stopover in Germany to learn the Sweden program was cancelled due to weather, so he flew back to Winnipeg to take it again in Gimli.

AMG Winter Sporting hits Gimli at an ideal time, as January and February are the town’s slowest months. The program generates business for the town’s earth-moving contractor, who prepares the ice tracks, as well as local businesses when guests head outside the hotel to look around. 

kelly.taylor@freepress.mb.ca

SUPPLIED The Arkells performed in the Ice Garage last week on the shores of Lake Winnipeg in Gimli.
Kelly Taylor

Kelly Taylor
Copy Editor, Autos Reporter

Kelly Taylor is a Winnipeg Free Press copy editor and award-winning automotive journalist. He's been a member of the Automobile Journalists' Association of Canada since 2001.

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