Jupiter Research expects US automotive online advertising spending to nearly triple between 2002 and 2007, according to eMarketer calculations. Automotive should continue to be a dominant category in online advertising, though note that leading auto manufacturers tend to currently spend only about 1% of their ad budgets online.

Even with small budgets, automakers are stretching each dollar through strategic alliances and developing their own Web sites. One in particular, Volvo, has been marketing online for nearly 10 years. I called up Volvo CRM and E-Business Manager Phil Bienert to discuss Volvo's ever-growing commitment to the Internet.

Berkowitz: What's Volvo doing with MSN Autos?

Phil Bienert: With MSN Autos, we are in the middle of a long-term agreement with them. There are two main components of that agreement.

One is the Volvo Digital Garage, which essentially is a combination of content on MSN Autos specifically geared toward either Volvo owners or people who want to get into more depth with the Volvo brand than you would just get from the typical car comparisons and things like that. It allows somebody who doesn't own a Volvo to get a little bit of a glimpse as to what it's like when you own a Volvo, to get deeper with the brand.

This is the second version, sort of version 2.0, of the Digital Garage. Version 1.0 was quite successful for us, and I think that version 2.0 offers a lot of improvements over that.

Berkowitz: What kind of improvements did you make?

PB: A lot of it had to do with a better-branded look and feel and adding more content to it than we had before. In a lot of cases, it's about bringing together elements that might have already been on MSN but might not have been brought together in a consolidated way before. In some cases, it means us making sure certain kinds of content gets sponsored and presented on MSN. That's one component, the Volvo Digital Garage.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Berkowitz (david.berkowitz@icrossing.com) is director of marketing at icrossing (www.icrossing.com).