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(June 19, 2001) DUESSELDORF -- An Elvis doll starring in a TV commercial promoting Audi's new high-tech gear system has become a cult item in Germany.

When Publicis Groupe's Saatchi & Saatchi, Audi's ad agency in the German market, was asked to come up with a commercial to explain Audi's innovative Multitronic gear system, the Frankfurt creatives didn't rely on a dry technical lesson. Instead, an Elvis-like doll with blond hair communicates the message.

The Multitronic is the first continuously variable transmission to be married with a turbodiesel engine. Instead of five or six gears, there's one gear with a flexible transmission belt that allows countless gear ratios.

The commercial opens with an Elvis impersonator driving an old American car. As he shifts gears, a little Elvis doll that hangs inside his car twists its pelvis.

The Elvis impersonator's car overheats and a woman driving an Audi picks him up. She lets him play his Elvis tape, but when he sticks his doll inside the car, the gear changes are so smooth that the doll doesn't swivel its hips. The Elvis impersonator looks down at the futuristic gear shift and the driver gently flicks the doll with her fingers. Of course the music playing is Elvis' version of "King of the Road."

Since the TV and cinema campaign broke last March in Germany, Audi says "The little puppet has become a cult figure."

Audi's telephone lines can hardly cope with calls from members of the public asking where they can buy the doll. Auto dealers have also been swamped.

Though neither Saatchi nor Audi originally had any intention of selling more than a limited number of the dolls for $7.50, they've now placed in order with Asia for 200,000 dolls.

The commercial ran in Germany for one month only and is now being aired in Spain, France, Luxembourg, Greece, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Demand for the Blonde Elvis may just be starting. -- Dagmar Mussey

Copyright June 2001, Crain Communications Inc.

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