As automakers scramble for creative ways to reach customers, they're finding that there's a lot more to life than network TV.
Dodge, for example, shelled out an estimated $5 million this summer - 'about the cost of four to five Super Bowl spots,' a Dodge source said - to treat about 11,000 Dodge owners and their families to a fun-packed weekend at the new Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla. The June get-together was one of the first events to kick off a new marketing agreement Dodge has signed with Universal Studios, which owns the park.
Jim Julow, vice president of Dodge, says traditional media are losing some of their glow.
'Clearly, our strategy is to get away from mass communications,' he says 'and into more event-type marketing, because you can build a stronger bond' with the consumer.
Dodges were everywhere at the park - 41 vehicles and 13 displays. A surround-sound fireworks display cost $130,000.
But Dodge is looking beyond rides and thrills. The exclusive automotive partnership with Universal involves several other goodies:
1. A Dodge Durango will share the screen with Kevin Costner in Universal's Love of the Game, coming out in September. The Caravan and Ram will appear in a Flintstones movie next year.
2. Dodge has an exclusive partnership with Universal's animalhouse.com, a Web site that reaches students at 2,500 campuses.
3. Several Universal characters will be used by Dodge for advertising and marketing purposes.
The weekend in Orlando was Dodge's first attempt at reaching out to a large group of owners in an effort to build brand loyalty. But Julow is ready to go bigger.
'I'm not suggesting that just owners get to be part of this relationship marketing,' he says. 'There are other people out there just as attractive to us; we just need to find better ways to sort them out.'