SAN FRANCISCO - He's funny and hip. He windsurfs, rides a mountain bike and cares for the environment. Meet Lars, a Swedish Generation Xer who will be introduced on the Internet this spring by Volvo Cars of North America Inc. as part of its prelaunch of the S40 sedan and V40 wagon.
Lars is the main character in a $2 million Internet marketing campaign - the company's largest - aimed at the 28- to 35-year-olds who will buy the S40 and V40 models. The cars are on the market in Europe and go on sale in North America Oct. 4.
'That audience (28- to 35-year-olds) is particularly Internet savvy and has grown up around computers,' said Jim Borsch, director of corporate communications for Volvo Cars of North America, in an interview at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention here.
'We are trying to create a character that will link Gen X Americans with Gen X Swedes,' Borsch said.
Lars will appear on a new Internet site for the S40 and V40, tentatively called www.swedenrules.com, in March or April. The site will be different from Volvo's general Web site, www.volvo.com.
Borsch said new information will be introduced on the site every two weeks.
The first phase of the campaign will introduce Lars and his V40 wagon. The initial information is designed to build interest in the car and establish a relationship with the Web visitor.
In the second phase, which will be this summer, Volvo plans to tie Lars, his car and his interests into Volvo-sponsored events. For instance, Lars will talk about mountain biking and attending the Volvo-sponsored Cannondale Mountain Bike races. Lars also is a sailor and likes to attend the Volvo Ocean Race. He also will talk about his love for the environment and may travel to the Biosphere in Tucson, Ariz., where Volvo sponsors a study program with Columbia University.
The third phase, planned for late August or early September, allows Web site visitors to configure an S40 or V40 for themselves. It also will provide a dealer-locator feature based on ZIP codes.
Blue Dingo, the New York Internet marketing company that created Lars, is working on calibrating Lars' personality. Then a talent search will be conducted to find a person to play Lars.
The Lars campaign will be reviewed by Volvo's Swedish executives and groups of current owners. But Lars won't be alone. Blue Dingo is creating a female friend for him.
Volvo plans to advertise its new Web site through banners on other sites. Cinema advertising also will promote the new site this summer. There are tentative plans for a road show with a nine screen video wall featuring Lars and the S40/V40.
But don't look for Lars in Volvo print advertising and TV commercials. General advertising for the S40 and V40 will focus on the car rather than a spokesman. Messner Vetere Berger McNamee Schmetterer/Euro RSCG, Volvo's national advertising agency, will develop the general audience campaign while Blue Dingo and other marketing partners will develop the Lars campaign.