Xbox, hip-hop tie-ins: Volvo goes after younger buyers

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"It's unusual to say Volvo and hot in the same sentence," said Wes Brown, an analyst at car consultant Iceology.

But Volvo Cars of North America, known for safety, is taking a walk on the wild side in marketing its redone S40 sedan. The marketer, hoping to build on its current sales tear, is looking to lure twentysomething and thirtysomething buyers by tying in with Microsoft's Xbox and Virgin Group. It's also creating commercials with hip-hop band Dilated Peoples and music-video director Dave Myers.

The Ford Motor Co. brand's strategy is to win over buyers with a median age of 35, the youngest owners by model in its lineup. "Two elements that are culturally relevant [to this target] are music videos and video games," said Jim Borsh, national advertising manager. Volvo also hopes the campaign attracts more nonwhite buyers, which already account for 18% of current S40 sales.

Although the first S40, introduced in the U.S. in 1999, drew early buyers averaging 38 years old, over time buyers got older and now average in the mid-to-upper 40s, said John Maloney, VP-communications at Volvo.

The pitch comes at a time of strength for Volvo. Earlier this month, the carmaker announced an annual sales record by selling 135,023 vehicles in North America last year, a 22% jump from 2002. "2003 was a banner year for Volvo," said Vic Doolan, president-CEO. "We have had 14 months of continuous sales growth."

Dialated peoples

One of the launch TV commercials will show the S40 racing in the environment of Xbox's RalliSport Challenge 2. While cars from other automakers have appeared in video games, an Xbox spokesman said this is the first time it has partnered with a marketer for a TV commercial. Volvo's effort matches the XBox new game's spring release and Dilated Peoples' second CD, Mr. Borsch said. The band's new song "By Chance" is featured in the TV commercial.

The estimated $28 million campaign, due in late March from Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS, New York, will be Volvo's biggest model push of 2004. The marketer spent $47 million in measured media in the first 10 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

The campaign will include national broadcast and cable TV buys as well as spot buys and magazines. This week, Volvo starts a co-marketing deal with Virgin in which S40 banners and signs will be posted at all of its roughly two dozen Virgin Megsatores. In addition, Volvo will take the car on tour at stores in the top 10 markets and provide product specialists to explain features.

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