VOLVO CREATES A GEN XER PITCHMAN FOR WEB EFFORT: AUTO IMPORTER AIMING INTERNET CAMPAIGN AT U.S. COUNTERPARTS

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[san francisco] He's funny and hip. He windsurfs, rides a mountain bike and cares for the environment. Meet Lars, a Swedish Generation Xer who will be introduced on the Internet this spring by Volvo Cars of North America as part of its prelaunch of the S40 sedan and V40 wagon.

Lars is the main character in a $2 million Internet marketing campaign -- the company's largest -- aimed at 28-to-35-year-olds. The cars go on sale in North America Oct. 4.

"That audience is particularly Internet savvy and has grown up around computers," said Jim Borsch, director of corporate communications for Volvo, in an interview at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here.

U.S./SWEDE LINK

"We are trying to create a character that will link Gen X Americans with Gen X Swedes," Mr. Borsch said.

Lars will appear on a new Internet site for the S40 and V40, tentatively called www.swedenrules.com, in March or April. The site will be markedly different from Volvo's general Web site, www.volvo.com.

Mr. Borsch said new information will be introduced on the site every two weeks. The first phase of the campaign will introduce Lars and his V40 wagon, with initial information designed to build interest in the car.

In the second phase this summer, Volvo plans to tie Lars, his car and interests to Volvo-sponsored events.

For instance, Lars will talk about mountain biking and attending the Volvo-sponsored Cannondale Mountain Bike races. Lars also is a sailor and likes to attend the Volvo Ocean Race, and will talk about his love for the environment and may travel to the Biosphere in Tucson, Ariz., where Volvo sponsors a study program.

DEALER FEATURE

The third phase, planned for late August or early September, allows Web site visitors to configure an S40 or V40 for themselves. It also will provide a dealer-locator feature based on ZIP codes.

Blue Dingo, New York, the Internet marketing company that created Lars, is working on calibrating Lars' personality, then will find a person to play Lars.

And Lars won't be alone. Blue Dingo is creating a female friend for him.

Volvo plans to advertise its new Web site through banners on other sites. Cinema ads also will promote the new site this summer, and there are tentative plans for a road show with a nine-screen video wall featuring Lars and the S40/V40.

NOT IN TRADITIONAL ADS

But don't look for Lars in Volvo print advertising and TV commercials. General advertising for the S40 and V40 will focus on the car itself.

Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, New York, the national agency, will develop the general-audience campaign.

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