Reveille, Volvo buckle up for Web ride


NEW YORK -- A new Web series produced by Reveille about a driving school instructor starring Craig Robinson of "The Office" and Volvo's new C30 hatchback premieres on MSN Aug. 15.

Reveille came up with the concept for "Mr. Robinson's Driving School" and took it to MSN -- which signed a first-look deal with Reveille about 18 months ago -- and then MSN pitched the idea to Volvo, a long-term advertising partner typically interested in innovative online marketing campaigns.

Volvo signed up to finance the show, its first Web series in the U.S., and is using it as the lead marketing initiative for its new C30 four-seat hatchback, which is likened to the Mini Cooper and aimed at a younger market than most of Volvo's vehicles.

The Swedish automaker was involved in the earliest stages of the show's development, with the producers working to integrate the C30's marketing themes and "attitude" into the series.

"MSN put Reveille and Volvo together and we jointly developed the concept and the show," said Howard Owens, managing director, co-head of domestic television and head of digital at Reveille. "The car is integral to Craig's mission and his heroic journey, and that journey is ultimately to prove he's the best driving instructor in town. It made sense that his sidekick would be his car."

Owens said Robinson names his car and commiserates with it during the series, mirroring some of the themes of Volvo's C30 marketing campaign, which focuses on style, performance and individuality. "We integrated aspects of Volvo's marketing campaign into themes for the new show without bastardizing the concept or jeopardizing the story," he said. "Volvo put no restrictions on us in terms of the kind of content we could make."

MSN director of U.S. branded entertainment Cameron Death said the show wasn't produced until Volvo, MSN and Reveille sat down and "jointly defined what the show is. It's the unique way we're putting great content together with great brands." "School" is the third Web series co-produced by MSN and the "Office" production company. The others were "Chef to the Rescue" with Kraft and "The Big Debate" with Cingular as the brand partner in its first season.

As it does with its other shows, MSN is also featuring a number of interactive elements tied to the show, such as a game that allows viewers to take a driving lesson with Mr. Robinson in the C30 and the ability to leave Mr. Robinson a voicemail or deliver a voicemail from him to a friend. The funniest voicemails left by viewers will be integrated into future episodes.

Past MSN shows with similar interactive experiences have typically drawn more than 4 million viewers who spend an average of 5-8 minutes with the shows and their interactive elements. Volvo said it will also run a sweepstakes offering viewers the chance to win Robinson's car.

The show will mostly be promoted on MSN's home page. Volvo said it will not be promoting the series in any of its own ads, as marketers featured extensively in TV or Web content frequently do. The series will premiere Aug. 15 with three episodes, and then one new episode will be posted every week for 13 more weeks for a total of 16 episodes, each running 3-4 minutes in length. The partners declined comment on the financial terms of the deal, but Volvo is believed to be making a multimillion-dollar investment that includes ad buys on MSN.

"I think the whole notion of an online comedy backed by arguably the hottest production company with an actor from 'The Office' and a very cool car gives us the right ingredients for the series to be quite buzzworthy," said John Maloney, vp marketing communications for Volvo Cars of North America. He said Volvo reviewed the scripts for the show but made very minor comments.

Owens said that despite Volvo's deep involvement in the series, neither Reveille nor Robinson feels the show comes off like an ad. "It still feels to us like it's a very funny and smart show, and I think Craig feels the same way," he said. "We don't feel like it's a commercial."