A new ad campaign by Volkswagen of America Inc. emphasizes the competitive pricing of its Golf car. The "nonpapal" version, that is.
In April, a 1999 Golf that is said to have belonged to Pope Benedict XVI sold on the German site of the eBay online auction, says Karen Marderosian, VWoA's director of marketing.
Golden Palace, an online gambling site in Austin, Texas, bought the Golf for $244,800 from a German citizen, The New York Times reported. That owner, the story goes, purchased the car for $12,900 from the pope when he was still a cardinal.
Golden Palace plans to take the Golf on a tour to provide the "experience of sitting in the divine car," the newspaper said.
Marderosian says the report struck VW executives as "kind of funny."
"We decided it would be something we could capitalize on," Marderosian says. "We wanted to do it in a timely manner, when this buzz was going around, and do a tongue-in-cheek campaign to promote the Golf."
VW ran a full-page ad for the Golf in USA Today on May 13. The ad tells consumers they can "save $228,970 on the nonpapal edition." The sale price of the pope's former car, it adds, reflects "resale value you could only pray for."
VW also is running related banner ads on the Web sites theonion.com and thesmokinggun.com. It is sending posters of the newspaper ad to dealerships.
"You always have some sensitivities," Marderosian says of the ad. "Is this going to offend anyone? We talked to the Catholics who we knew, and they thought it would be funny. The dealers really enjoyed it."
Paul Carroll, sales manager of Suburban Volkswagen of Troy, Mich., agrees. "The manufacturer does have a sense of humor occasionally," Carroll says.
Marderosian notes that VW often trades on cultural trends in its advertising. When Jerry Garcia, lead singer of The Grateful Dead, died in 1995, the company published a tribute ad in Rolling Stone magazine. It showed a drawing of a VW bus with a teardrop emerging from its headlight.
"It was just taking something relevant at the time and doing a single message," she says of the Garcia ad. "We got a lot of attention, and it has become sort of a collector's item."
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