Volvo's Online Advertising Marks Shift in Philosophy

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Volvo's decision to launch its new S60 sedan exclusively on America Online, putting off print and television advertising until next year, is as much about a change in the company's branding as it is a cost saving measure.

Though the decision was partly because of high media prices during the presidential election, it was primarily another step in a company-wide branding shift, said Phil Bienert, manager of consumer relations and e-business at Volvo's North American sales arm based in Irvine, CA.

The Web-only campaign for the $26,500 sedan will hit Oct. 9 to gear up for the vehicle's Nov. 1 debut in dealerships.

Volvo, a Ford subsidiary, is moving away from being a "safe car" and toward what Bienert called a "safety plus" car.

"I wouldn't describe it as re-branding. It's a shift. We are not walking away from our core values, [we're] adding to them," he said. "It started with our new campaign called 'ReVolvolution.' Traditionally, people have viewed buying a Volvo as a good choice because they are safe vehicles. It's usually a very rational choice.

"As part of ReVolvolution, we thought we ought to look at new ways of marketing cars as well."

Bienert added that 85 percent of Volvo customers are online. The target buyer for the S60 is what he called the "early adopter" -- tech-savvy, career-oriented people in their mid-30s who want to make both an emotional and rational decision in the car they buy.

"Going with AOL makes sense for a lot of different reasons," Bienert said. "They reach 24 million people, and they are soon launching their version 6.0, which will have a more prominent auto channel on it. If you look at their customer profiles, there [are] a lot of good matches between their customers and our customers."

The campaign will cover run-of-service banner ads within AOL channels such as Auto and MapQuest. AOL also will run a discount offer for the sedan on its welcome page. Through the offer, AOL subscribers who purchase an S60 will be able to add accessories for free -- up to a value of $2,100.

The banner ads will link to, where people can enter a contest to win one of 10 S60s. The winner will receive an expenses-paid trip to Sweden, including a trip to Volvo's Gothenburg factory to pick up the S60. Bienert added that secondary prizes from Volvo's co-branding partners would also be given out.

Bienert said he would not be surprised if an Internet-only campaign was used again in the future.

"What we didn't want to do is what traditionally happens in the auto industry, which is called 'launch and abandon,' " Bienert said. "This is when you spend all your resources in one or two concentrated months and then you say, 'We launched it, we are done now.'

"We wanted to sustain momentum on this launch, so in January we will mix in traditional media -- television, print and radio. We will take a hard look at how the Internet-only launch works, and if it works as well as we think it will, you will definitely see more campaigns like this."

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