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Jeep Goes Viral To Launch Compass

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Calling all William Hung wannabes: Jeep wants to tap your inner vocalist with a karaoke Web site promoting its new SUV for drivers under 30.

Starting today, visitors to jeepcompasskaraoke.com can create an avatar (a 3D graphic persona) and choose from three songs to sing. The site displays the lyrics on screen, while the user sings into a computer mic or the phone using a 1-800 number. The voice file is uploaded and synced with the avatar's lips, belting out Madonna's "Borderline," "Hey Mickey" by Toni Basil or "I Ran" by Flock of Seagulls. Users can then e-mail the creation to friends, who can vote for the best performers.

DaimlerChrysler and BBDO created the site, built by avatar firm Oddcast, as the first phase of its launch campaign for the Jeep Compass, a smallish SUV aimed at expanding the ranks of Jeep customers. The viral effort will lead broad-reach TV and print ads, which bow later this month. While Jeep brands typically appeal to baby boomers, the Compass, priced under $20,000, is aimed squarely at 22- to 30-year-olds, particularly females, said Jay Kuhnie, director of Jeep communications.

"It's a way for us to break the ice, build some relationships with them and allow the individual to be comfortable with us," he said.

Rather than run ads for the karaoke site, DaimlerChrysler today sent out e-mails to 50,000 "hand-raisers" who requested Compass information, counting on them to spread word of the site to family and friends. That's part of the appeal of such programs: Creating the site costs under $200,000, a fraction of the production cost for the typical TV shoot. Thanks to the viral-dominant strategy, media costs are close to zero.