VW woos its young drivers with Saturn-style festival

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Volkswagen of America's "Drivers wanted" theme could be modified this summer to "Partiers wanted."

Taking a page from General Motors Corp.'s Saturn subsidiary, the automaker plans an Aug. 28 festival for VW owners on Jones Beach State Park on Long Island in Wantagh, N.Y.

The beach party, called DriversFest '99, will feature alternative rock, test drives, a performance-driving clinic and outdoor sports.

Drawing on the network of 200 clubs of VW buffs, the marketer is trying to build on its success in attracting young buyers.

"Our buyer demographic is the youngest in the industry," said Bill Rodgers, VW's organizer for the event, putting the median age of VW buyers at 33. "I think we kind of caught everybody by surprise by targeting this group."

VW hopes to attract 15,000 to DriversFest, using direct mail, registration on its Web site and ads in auto-enthusiast magazines. It's likely to follow up DriversFest with ads in car-buff books, and Mr. Rodgers said VW wants to make it an annual event.

VW's promotion partners, such as Trek bicycles and K2 snowboards, will have exhibit space at the event. So will suppliers such as Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. and Castrol North America Automotive, as well as Microsoft Corp., which will feature a VW Beetle in a new videogame.

But much of the festival will be geared to the "active lifestyle" of VW owners and to their musical tastes, Mr. Rodgers said.

Bands booked for the show include the Verve Pipe, Violent Femmes, Dishwalla, Atomic Fireballs and, in an apparent nod to VW's boomer fans, Grand Funk Railroad.


VW has found music a powerful way to connect to its buyer group, as illustrated by a current radio spot that plays uninterrupted music for much of its duration, Mr. Rodgers said.

The tune is "Jung at Heart" by Master Cylinder, the same one used in the automaker's New Orleans TV spot entitled "Synchronicity."

"It's not all music-related, but we really love to key on their love for the music," he said.

"Experience branding" events could help VW deepen the identity it has defined in recent years, said Robert Kahn, executive director of consultancy Future Brand Co.

But, he added, VW could have trouble holding onto current buyers with its limited product range.

"For a moment in time, it may appear to be extremely effective, but the question is what comes next?" Mr. Kahn said.

For now, though, VW is eager to party with its core audience, Mr. Rodgers said.

"There's really no need to pressure these people to buy the product," Mr. Rodgers said. "They're the ones who bleed Volkswagen blue."

Copyright July 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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