Off-roader pushed with online effort

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Chrysler Group won't do much traditional advertising for the 2003 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon sport utility-the automaker only plans to sell around 8,000 of the model it dubs "the ultimate off-road rig."

So to build awareness for the SUV among its mostly male target, the DaimlerChrysler unit teamed up with PC game developer Terminal Reality, Dallas, and software publisher-distributor Take Two Interactive Software, New York, to deliver the Rubicon's exclusive version of the original Evo simulated off-road game. The free Jeep 4x4 Evo2 game features the Jeep Wrangler, highlighting its capabilities via virtual four-wheel-drive test drives on rugged, well-known off-road trails.

Automakers and other consumer marketers have increasingly turned to PC and online gaming to generate leads, cultivate customer loyalty and brand buzz. Interactive gaming revenues hit $7.4 billion in 2001 and are projected to reach $8.3 billion, according to Jupiter Research.

the bait

The Jeep game launched in February via jeep.com. Gamers can download it or order a CD-ROM version and submit their scores for a sweepstakes offering a grand prize Rubicon. The 10 players who submit the highest scores by June 14 win a trip to Jeep's annual Camp Jeep event and a face-off on the Rubicon Trail, the final trail in the game.

Jeep is encouraged by early results, said Chrysler's Joel Schlader, the customer relationship marketing specialist responsible for all jeep.com content. Nearly 50,000 visitors had downloaded the game as of April 28 and 7,315 ordered the CD. He predicted some 70,000 visitors will have registered for the game by June 14.

Mr. Schlader said there are conflicting data as to the composition of the gaming population. Some analysts say gamers are mostly young males, while others maintain that women make up nearly half the market. A few pundits say 40-somethings constitute the fastest growing segment.

"We were really concerned that the only people who would register would be 18- to mid-20s," Mr. Schlader said. But he's pleased 35-to-45-year olds are also registering to enter the sweepstakes. His only disappointment: the low percentage of registrants sending in their scores. He speculated that players may not have robust enough PCs to play the game. An e-mail survey is planned to determine why of 43,155 registrants, only 2,228 scores were uploaded to the site. He's optimistic about online survey results showing 51.7% of registrants and 61% of score submitters said they were "very interested" in four-wheel drive games. "What would be their answer if we asked about their interest in four-wheel drive ads?"

Mr. Schlader said less than 1% of registrants have opted out of future e-mails from Jeep.

Jeff Bell, VP-marketing communications, Chrysler, said the company spends roughly 20% of its entire ad budget on Internet media and interactive programs. Chrysler Group spent $1.19 billion in measured media in the U.S. in 2001, according to Taylor Nelson Sofres' CMR.

In a few months, the marketer will be able to track car and truck sales directly to prospects from its gaming efforts.

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