REDESIGNED PROTEGE TAKES ROAD TRIP: MAZDA'S RECORD ONLINE PUSH SEEKS BUYERS IN 20S, 30S

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Mazda north American Operations is giving its redesigned Protege sedan the biggest Internet push of any of its past vehicle launches.

"Our strategy is to dominate the Web," said Debbie Hjelmstrom, manager of interactive marketing at the carmaker. Mazda's spending is nearly double what it spent previously launching a model online, she said, declining to reveal spending. The Internet is "a really strong part" of the car's target audience -- consumers in their mid 20s to early 30s, she added.

Mazda spent $27.6 million advertising Protege in all measured media last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

ON THE ROAD

On Oct. 15, the marketer kicks off what it calls "the world's largest online automotive launch party."

Prelaunch activities started Oct. 1, mainly via banner ads on Yahoo!, as well on America Online's Autocenter, Carpoint, MTV, Preview Travel, People online and Excite. The ads lead visitors to the Protege area at www.mazdausa.com, where they start the Protege Road Trip.

Users pick the traits and a photograph of an imaginary travel companion before they start their cyber trips, which include choosing which virtual roads to take. Fun facts about the car are offered along the way.

"We didn't want to make it a seller site," said Ms. Hjelmstrom. Travelers can enter a sweepstakes to win a Protege in a promotion ending Oct. 31.

CKS, DONER WORK IN TANDEM

The work is the first for Mazda by CKS Group, Cupertino, Calif., the client's new interactive agency. (CKS recently announced plans to merge with US Web to form a company called Reinvent Communications. The deal has not yet been finalized.)

CKS used national Protege creative developed by Mazda's ad agency, W.B. Doner & Co., Southfield, Mich., which also worked on interactive strategy.

All the cyber road trips lead to the launch party, which has trivia games supplied by online game show site Uproar.

Along the way, Mazda will mail a CD-ROM with music and movie reviews to people who request more information on the Web site. Doner is handling the CD-ROM distribution for Mazda.

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