Dodge Puts Moms in Grand Caravans for Ad Launch

A “Mom Test-Drive,” customized online ads and Christmas carols all are part of a new advertising campaign for the ’08 Dodge Grand Caravan, launching Oct. 1.

AUBURN HILLS, MI – Moms generally are regarded as the driving force behind most minivan purchases, and now Chrysler LLC’s Dodge brand is giving them the chance to get behind the wheel of a new Grand Caravan free of charge.

In conjunction with the launch of the new ’08 Dodge minivan, the brand is making available 30 Grand Caravans to 300 mothers in six U.S. markets, including Minneapolis, Phoenix and Atlanta, for six days in the months of October and November.

The goal is to get the word out on the new minivan, which is on sale now and for which advertising officially launches Oct. 1.

“(The moms) are encouraged to blog,” Mark Spencer, senior marketing manager-Dodge, says of the marketing promotion during a media event here. “We didn’t set up a centralized blog site. We wanted it to be a little more natural and organic.”

Spencer says Dodge asked consulting firm Matchstick to locate mothers who are import-minivan intenders, or owners, in markets with a high penetration of minivans and also near Dodge distribution centers.

“This is the first time we’ve done this in the U.S.,” Spencer says, noting a similar promotion once was undertaken by Chrysler in Canada.

The “Mom Test-Drive” is just one of many activities Dodge is under taking to promote its new Grand Caravan. Fifteen-second teaser commercials begin airing Sept. 16 during televised National Football League games, along with new Dodge-brand commercials.

Spencer says Dodge has left no stone unturned in promoting the ’08 Grand Caravan, partnering with a who’s who of media outlets. He also says the new minivan push is the brand’s biggest marketing spend for the year.

The launch of the Grand Caravan, along with sister vehicle, the Chrysler Town & Country, “has the opportunity to reinvigorate the entire (minivan) segment,” he says.

Segment sales, including small and luxury vans, were down 17.7% through August, according to Ward’s data. However, the Grand Caravan was the best-selling minivan in the U.S. in the period, with 120,055 deliveries, albeit trailing year-ago 20.9%.

In addition to the test-drive promotion, Dodge will be the first auto maker to use Yahoo! Inc.’s SmartAds, a proprietary technology that tracks users’ movements on the Internet and customizes ads to fit their general profile, a Yahoo spokeswoman says.

The new Grand Caravan is aimed at affluent families, with parents in their 30s and 40s who have an annual household income of $75,000.

Spencer says the median annual income of minivan owners is about $45,000, adding Chrysler Town & Country buyers historically have been older and wealthier than prospective buyers targeted for the Grand Caravan.

He also says Dodge is aiming more of its marketing money on interactive efforts, as has become the standard in the industry.

Auto makers devoted less than 5% of their marketing budget toward interactive efforts in the early part of the decade, while Dodge will be parceling out 18% for the ’08 Grand Caravan, Spencer says.

That figure does not include spending on the Dodge website, which is “the most video-intensive website we’ve done,” he adds. The site includes a 3-minute overview of the Grand Caravan and 42 demonstration videos of the vehicle’s features.

The actress playing the mother in the promotional videos is prominent as an online concierge, as well, helping visitors navigate their way through the site. “We want to establish some human connection,” says Spencer.

Despite the growth of Internet marketing, TV still represents the majority of ad dollars spent on the Grand Caravan campaign (24% network and 15% cable), and Dodge will be airing spots on virtually every channel.

A partnership with ABC’s “The View” will give away 12 new Grand Caravans during the holidays to winning families who submit videos of themselves, “Caroling for Caravans.”

Multiple Grand Caravan TV spots, some of which are dedicated to Hispanic and African-American audiences, showcase the vehicle’s interior flexibility, including Swivel ’n Go seating, technology and safety.

One commercial features a crash-test dummy, as “safety is part of the family,” the voiceover says.

For all its advertising, the Dodge brand has switched to the tagline “Grab Life,” dropping the “By the Horns” part of the familiar slogan, which Spencer says was too Ram-truck specific.

He says the new ads tested well with consumers, as well as dealers. Dealers have been upset with the direction of some recent Dodge marketing efforts, including those for the new Nitro SUV, which they contend fail to highlight the vehicle’s attributes.

“This is a product-driven campaign. It’s feature-rich,” says Spencer, noting it scored high among consumers on “likeability.”

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