Volvo Taps MSN for SUV Campaign

Microsoft’s MSN Web portal will be promoting Volvo’s first sport utility vehicle, through an agreement with the Swedish automaker’s U.S. unit.

The deal, which the companies described as being worth millions, will see Irving, Calif.-based Volvo Cars of North America using MSN to handle online marketing surrounding the launch of the XC90 next year. As a result, ads promoting the SUV will run across MSN until Nov. 2002, when the vehicle is slated for rollout.

Created by Volvo’s North American agency of record, Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer Euro RSCG, and its Fuel North America integrated marketing unit, the ads will serve to drive traffic to an online showroom. The site, hosted by Microsoft’s auto buying research site, MSN Carpoint, features product information, tours of current Volvo models, and ways to request more information from local Volvo dealers.

Redmond, Wash.-based MSN also will drive users to an online content area, dubbed the Volvo Digital Garage. At the Garage site, users will be able to sign up for e-mail updates about the new Volvo SUV.

MSN also said it would distribute a co-branded browser with Volvo through the site — featuring graphics from and links to the automaker — offering three free months of MSN’s ISP service to downloaders of the browser.

The automaker also will sponsor sweepstakes each quarter, beginning with the MSN and Microsoft Windows XP Peak Performance Sweepstakes — in which users can win a new Volvo S60 sports sedan. Volvo also will receive signage in wireless news and weather alerts from

For Volvo, the effort represents a continuation of the automaker’s occasionally-risky efforts at building its brand online. Earlier this year, the company handled most of the launch promotion for its S60 sedan via the Web — a first for the automotive industry. (While some dealers said the effort brought in lackluster attention from consumers, Volvo e-business and CRM manager Phil Bienert maintained that the campaign was a resounding success.)

“The customized campaign we developed with MSN uniquely connects Volvo with potential and existing customers by providing them with useful and engaging information on multiple devices,” Bienert said of the new agreement.

The campaign also is reminiscent of a marketing deal last February between MSN and American Isuzu. That agreement saw MSN funneling sales leads from Carpoint to Isuzu dealerships’ software (also provided by Microsoft).

As in this earlier advertising deal on MSN, Volvo dealerships will receive leads generated by the national brand’s online marketing efforts. That the online ad efforts drive interested consumers to local dealers is a crucial factor for online automotive marketing, since executives at Big Three automakers like Ford have said that dealers have been suspicious of national online ad campaigns, fearing that the opportunity for a direct, manufacturer-to-consumer sale would cut dealers out of the equation.

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