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VW Taps SNL Talent for Viral Videos

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Jean Halliday is a seasoned journalist with the nation's longest consecutive run covering auto advertising. Her years in the trenches include stints at Automotive News, Adweek and Advertising Age. The native New Yorker now lives outside the Motor City. You can read Jean's blog at AutoAdOpolis.wordpress.com.

Volkswagen of America, which is on a mission to sell 800,000 new VWs in this country by 2018, kicked off a webinar series it hopes will boost buyer consideration.

The automaker teamed with Saturday Night Live comedian Bill Hader, SNL writer Jon Mulaney and one of its own hired-gun product specialists, Danielle Gumro for the series called “Inside the VW Academy.”

Gumro plays the straight role, dishing out cool facts about the single model in each video, while Hader provides comic relief with off-the-wall comments.

The first nine videos, each about two minutes long, will run on VW’s YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/vw through March. The all-new 2011 Jetta, 2011 Tiguan and 2011 Touareg are in the fist batch, each vehicle has three dedicated videos. The next batch of nine videos will begin in March.

“We had running footage and TV spots, but no branded entertainment,” Charlie Taylor, general manager of VW’s digital marketing told AutoTrader.com. “Our primary goal is to drive purchase consideration,” he added. In-market car shoppers of rival models are the main target of the effort, dreamed up and developed by VW’s ad agency Deutsch Los Angeles.

As in the past, car shoppers still rely on third-party car sites and auto enthusiast magazines when deciding on which models to put on their shopping lists, Taylor said. “More and more it’s video online.”

VW opted not to put the series on its site, instead on YouTube, since it’s the most popular video site.

In February and March VW will advertise in digital media to try to drive traffic to the videos. VW is hoping its owners and fans will pass along the videos to friends as well as to their Facebook and Twitter pages for more exposure. People can also watch the videos on their smart phones or iPads, expanding the effort’s reach. According to Compete Inc., in-market auto consumers are 14 times more likely to view automotive video than the average internet user and in 2010, purchasers who used online video found it to be an important source of information.

Taylor said he was unable to project what kind of traffic or viewership the online series might attract, but predicted the series will continue for several years.

The most successful online series by an automaker was BMW’s “The Hire.” The series of short films, which ran online from 2001 through fall 2005, attracted 100 million film views.

The VW brand just reported its 2010 new-car sales’ tally of 256,830 units in the U.S., a 20% jump from 2009.

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