LOS ANGELES -- Chrysler-Fiat marketing chief Olivier Francois hopes he has this summer's pop-music hit in his back pocket, the thumping soundtrack to a Fiat 500 commercial that has evolved into a full-length, party-themed video for a song with "Fiat" in its title.
"If it works, we will have written a page in the marketing books," with Super Bowl-sized exposure on YouTube, Francois said in an interview at the Automotive News Marketing Seminar in Los Angeles.
If it doesn't, the project could end up where most automakers' online video promotions do: languishing on YouTube and quickly forgotten.
Online video has redrawn the boundaries of auto marketing, giving companies a chance to sketch a broader story line around their products, break the conventions of TV and connect with customers in new ways. The auto industry is second only to video game makers in embracing the medium for its video advertising, according to a recent study by Kantar Media.
Sometimes, automakers strike gold with a video that goes viral, racking up millions of views online and heaps of good will with customers. Super Bowl spots from Toyota, Chrysler and Hyundai all received more than 10 million views on YouTube and were some of the most widely viewed commercials of this year's big game. Volkswagen's 2011 Super Bowl spot "The Force" is the most viewed auto commercial of all time, according to Visible Measures, an online video marketing and analytics firm that tracks views on YouTube and other video sites.
But for much of advertising's off-season -- that long stretch between Super Bowls -- online videos from automakers and their agencies struggle to go viral. The breakout hits continue to depend on a push from a big-budget launching pad, such as a Super Bowl spot, a movie tie-in or other pop-culture hook.
"Outside of the Super Bowl, they have not had many successes," said Seraj Bharwani, chief analytics officer for Visible Measures.