Exhibitions are singularly adept at gathering an entire market in one place for a short period of time. People pay good money to be in the mix when this happens, be it as buyer or exhibitor, influencer or influenced. The bigger the event, the greater the percentage of the international market in attendance.

The world’s largest motor show, IAA Frankfurt, is one event that truly gathers the global community, car lovers are just one part of the circus that gathers in the industrial Germany city for one week every September.

And this year one of the show’s leading exhibitors, Mercedes-Benz, took its involvement to a new level by partnering with the organiser behind the Texas-based South by Southwest (SXSW) festival for a standalone event that gave the brand maximum exposure to this audience on a scale I’ve not seen before.

The first ‘me Convention’ was no ordinary exhibitor sideshow. Taking place at the multipurpose Festhalle Frankfurt venue on 15-17 September, Mercedes quoted 2,700 attendees from 35 countries, who gathered to watch presentations on technology, design and creativity by a facinating 150-strong speaker line-up that included astronaut Buzz Aldrin; Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, cyborg Neil Harbisson, sociologist Auma Obama and Mercedes-Benz chairman Dieter Zetsche. A far cry from the usual motor show mini-event featuring an industry commentator running through pre-approved questions with one of the brand’s marketing bods.

The event played with a number of modern trade show and convention formats; taking the form of seminars, workshops, interactive labs, art installations and an evening event programme that Mercedes claims set out to inspire visitors to become “a global force turning dreams of tomorrow into realities”.

After all, these are the tenets that the car manufacturer wishes to be associated with, regardless of whether the cars themselves are the subject. In fact Marcomms director of at Mercedes-Benz Cars, Natanael Sijanta, explained to me that the company is in the midst of a rather aggrandising transformation “from a car manufacturer to a mobility services provider for the society of tomorrow”.

He also told me the event continues the firm’s evolvement of its trade fair presences. “We used the Frankfurt Motor Show IAA this year for the first time to open up new dimensions in brand perception among the target groups relevant to us with a completely new format that was unusual for an automaker in the past. Our aim was to transform the traditional trade fair into an inspiring community platform.”

As to how Mercedes went about pulling this feat off without upsetting the team at IAA Frankfurt, it seems any fears of the event being parasitic, drawing business from the main event at Messe Frankfurt, were dismissed.

“We presented the concept of the me Convention to the IAA in advance and they were really supportive. However, the detailed planning and implementation together with SXSW took place independent of the IAA. There were no provisions or restrictions,” she said. “We believe that formats such as the me Convention are an asset for the classic trade fair formats. With it, we attract people who in the past never or rarely visited an auto show.

“Trade fair organisers must be willing to try new formats. Innovations are necessary to respond to changes or initiate them. In this respect, the trade fair organisers will also (have to) react to changes to keep making the factor ‘trade fair’ interesting for all parties involved,” she emphasised.

In any case Mercedes-Benz was out to do away with existing, ahem, conventions. While exhibitions are anomalous in that they are the product of their own carefully selected client base – show floors defined by exhibitors – the prospect of an exhibitor becoming the highlight of the show has rarely been seen on such a scale.

Photo credit from the top:  Nass – Brauer Photos fuer Mercedes-Benz / Buzz © Daimler AG / Jens Thiemer on stage © Daimler AG,