The campaign, tagged "Autoweb. Take the wheel," is aimed at pointing out what would happen to consumers if other retailers ran their business in a manner similar to auto dealerships.
TV spots, part of an estimated $20 million in annual spending, will run for about eight weeks on national cable channels such as ESPN, Comedy Central and VH1.
"There are a lot of frustrations and challenges with the car-buying experience," said Buzz Sawyer, general manager of Lowe Lintas & Partners Worldwide, San Francisco, Autoweb's agency.
In one spot, a man ordering a tuna melt is pressured by a waitress to upgrade to a more expensive surf-and-turf platter. She insinuates he doesn't want it because he can't afford it, and urges him to impress the woman he's with by spending more.
"What is it going to take for me to get you into that surf and turf?" the waitress demands to know.
Each spot illustrates how the site works.
SHIFT FROM SUMMER ADS
The campaign is a shift from an effort during the summer in which two keys, named Auto and Webster, found themselves in various situations, such as trying to stop a man from stealing a car.
Autoweb is one of the pioneers in the online car shopping. The site provides financing and insurance information as well as data on cars. Qualified buyers are referred to car dealers, who are members of Autoweb and pay a fee for the leads.
The site ranks third in the number of unique online visitors, according to