Microsoft Corp.'s MSN has similar deals with Toyota and Nissan. Volvo ended an exclusive interactive media relationship with AOL Time Warner's America Online in March, though the auto marketer will continue to have a presence on AOL.
Volvo's first sport utility, the XC90, will be the premiere model featured in the MSN interactive "Advantage Marketer" program that will also include the rest of the carmaker's line.
Finding customers online
The agreement, whose exact financial details were not disclosed, is designed to help Volvo qualify and acquire customers online, and also to test customer service and retention programs.
Volvo has increased integrated online activities as the brand pushes to attract a broader and younger customer base. One of Volvo's most ambitious early efforts was the fall 2000 online-only launch of the S60 sports sedan. But after dealers complained the push wasn't generating showroom traffic, Volvo created traditional ads.
Under the terms of the new deal, MSN will build the Volvo Digital Garage, a destination where current and future Volvo owners and enthusiasts can come to find out about models, service and promotions.
Volvo gets a virtual showroom on MSN Carpoint, launching this week, featuring animated flash technology that enables viewers to see models from all angles, such as 360 degrees. It will get access to diverse ad types, such as skyscrapers and other yet-to-be-named formats; and Volvo weather and road alerts and other notification services using MSN Mobile. The deal includes a co-branded Internet access offer in which participating Volvo dealers will offer three months of free MSN Internet access to customers.
Fuel North America, New York, Volvo's interactive marketing agency, brought MSN and Volvo together and will oversee the relationship. Fuel is the interactive arm of Havas Advertising's Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro/RSCG Worldwide, New York, Volvo's longtime ad agency.
Webcast of SUV intro
"We're running the whole spectrum of programming and technology and will explore a suite of rich media ad solutions," said Ken O'Donnell, Fuel's interactive media director.
He said the MSN arrangement will enable Volvo to do streaming media and live Webcasts. Plans call for MSN to Webcast the unveiling of the new SUV at the Detroit Auto Show in January.
"The automotive companies want to be highly visible where people are making car-buying decisions," said Richard Bray, vice president of MSN.
Phil Bienert, manager of customer relationship management and future product strategy at Volvo, said the deal with MSN will be key to the pre-launch of the XC90 that was unveiled last week and goes on sale next fall. North America is a key market for the SUV. Volvo, owned by Ford Motor Co., said North America is expected to account for about 65% of the XC90's total global sales.
This month, Volvo's Digital Garage goes live within MSN's CarPoint.com auto info site. The area will offer featured Volvo articles and the opportunity for the marketer to communicate directly with prospects. Visitors can also download an MSN-Volvo-branded browser in exchange for free, three-month access to MSN.
Volvo sales are up slightly this year to 107,324 vehicles through October vs. 104,368 units a year ago, says Advertising Age sibling Automotive News.
Ad spending in measured media has risen too -- to $72.6 million in the first half of 2001, compared to $64 million in the same 2000 period, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR. The figure excludes online advertising.