Volvo Cars of North America Inc., known for staid styling and safety, is taking a walk on the wild side in marketing its redesigned S40 sedan.
Volvo hopes to build on its current sales tear. It wants to lure twenty- and thirtysomething buyers by tying in with Microsoft's Xbox game station and Virgin Records. It also is creating commercials with hip-hop band Dilated Peoples and music-video director Dave Myers.
The Ford Motor Co. brand's strategy is to win buyers with a median age of 35.
"Two elements that are culturally relevant (to this target) are music videos and video games," says Jim Borsh, national advertising manager. Volvo also hopes to attract more nonwhite buyers, which already account for 18 percent of S40 sales.
The first S40, introduced in the United States in 1999, drew buyers averaging 38 years old. But over time, buyers got older and average in the mid-to-upper 40s, says John Maloney, head of communications at Volvo.
The pitch comes at a time of strength for Volvo. It set a record by selling 148,057 vehicles in North America last year, a 20.6 percent jump from 2002. "2003 was a banner year for Volvo," says Vic Doolan, president of Volvo Cars of North America. "We have had 14 months of continuous sales growth."
One of the launch TV commercials will show the S40 racing in the environment of Xbox video game RalliSport Challenge 2.
Cars from other automakers have appeared in video games, but a Microsoft spokesman says this is the first time the Xbox game system has been partnered with a marketer for a TV commercial.
Volvo's effort matches the Xbox game's spring release and Dilated Peoples' second CD, Borsh said. The band's new song "By Chance" is featured in the TV commercial.
The estimated $28 million launch campaign, due in late March from advertising agency Havas' Euro RSCG MVBMS of New York, will be Volvo's biggest model push of 2004.
Volvo spent $47 million in measured media in the first 10 months of 2003, according to TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.
The campaign will include national broadcast and cable TV commercials as well as spot buys and magazines. Last week, Volvo began a co-marketing deal with Virgin. S40 banners and signs were posted at all of the roughly two dozen Virgin Megsastores. Volvo also will take the car on tour at stores in the top 10 markets and provide product specialists to explain features.