It's never too early to go mining for prospects for an all-new vehicle.
DaimlerChrysler has been collecting prospective names and data for the Chrysler PT Cruiser since January. The car goes on sale early next spring, which means the company will have pitched the vehicle for 15 months before it arrives in showrooms.
No other Chrysler-branded vehicle has had such a long introduction, said Susan Thomson, the senior manager of national advertising at the Chrysler-Plymouth-Jeep Division.
The PT Cruiser 'didn't have a predecessor, and we feel it does a lot for the Chrysler brand,' she said. 'We are broadening the brand,' which started with the 300M sedan last year.
The prelaunch program includes events, a sweepstakes, a series of direct mailings and a live chat session on the Internet. (See story at right.) The launch team now has more than 225,000 prospective names.
Intense prelaunch marketing ensures a vehicle will be heavily shopped when it arrives in showrooms, but that doesn't guarantee long-term sales success, said marketing consultant Susan Jacobs, president of Jacobs & Associates in Rutherford, N.J. 'It helps create a splash when the vehicle does debut because you have a core group of people familiar with the product,' she said.
Chrysler's sister brand Mercedes-Benz set the standard for prelaunch programs. In 1995 it started a series of direct mailings for the launch of its then-unnamed first sport-utility. The program lasted two years.
The PT Cruiser debuted in January at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. A brochure for the car at auto shows let prospects respond three ways: a business reply card; the toll-free 1-800-CHRYSLER phone number; or the brand's Web site at chryslercars.com.
A print spread, created by FCB Worldwide's Southfield, Mich., office, ran in car buff books in summer and fall, with the same response options. Most of the prospect data came from that push, Thomson said. The PT Cruiser also appears in a full-line Chrysler TV commercial as well as in a 16-page print insert.
Ross Roy Communications in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., created four direct mailings. Each one covered a different topic about the car and included a PT Cruiser keepsake. The mailing on the car's versatility included a black plastic credit card that was co-branded with the Swiss Army knife. It contained a pullout scissors and nail file. The latest mailing went out this month, covering the technical aspects of the car. It includes a hologram of the rear suspension. The fifth and final mailing is planned closer to launch and will direct prospects to dealers, Thomson said.
The launch team is in the midst of college tailgate events at 10 football games, ending Jan. 3 at the Fiesta Bowl. Chrysler placed ads in college newspapers about the events. Prospects already in the database who lived within 200 miles of the campuses were invited. Consumers who visited the display area could enter a sweepstakes to win a PT Cruiser or a trip on a cruise ship.
The brand's new online agency, Organic Inc. in San Francisco, handled a live chat session Nov. 18 at talkcity.com with PT Cruiser engineers, designers and marketing staffers. The launch team sent e-mail Nov. 16 to 50,000 people alerting them to the 60-minute chat.
More events also are being planned, though Thomson declined to comment on them. She could not project what percentage of the prospects would buy the PT Cruiser. Production capacity will be more than 100,000 annually in Toluca, Mexico.
The prelaunch effort uses different media because it allows the marketing team to go into more detail and communicate with more people than mere TV commercials, Thomson said. 'It's about all the pieces coming together.'