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Toyota rides online with AOL, MSN

Toyota unveils a $160 million campaign with partners including online giants AOL Time Warner and Microsoft to market its 2002 Camry sedan.

Toyota on Monday unveiled a $160 million campaign with partners including online giants AOL Time Warner and Microsoft to market its 2002 Camry sedan.

Both AOL Time Warner and Microsoft recently have made flashy announcements about new ways advertisers can use their assets. The Toyota agreement underscores AOL Time Warner's efforts to sell advertising packages that use its online, publishing and broadcast properties. Meanwhile, Microsoft gains a high-profile partner that will use its software services to advertise throughout its MSN Web portal. Magazine publisher Conde Nast will also participate in the deal.

Toyota "knew we could only be successful in reaching almost every American with the Camry message by working with a variety of leading companies that span all forms of media," Steve Sturm, vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., said in a statement.

For the past year, the Internet has been struggling amid an economic downturn to prove its worth to advertisers. As ad spaces once filled by high-flying dot-coms become gaping holes, some sites are attempting to attract the interest--and advertising budgets--of more traditional companies.

Monday's agreement is another example of an established offline company testing the Internet's ability to promote new products. Sony and Yahoo recently announced a wide-ranging agreement to advertise the electronics giant's products throughout Yahoo's site. Ford and Yahoo also teamed to promote the new Ford Explorer on the portal's home page.

Other online giants are pushing to sign similar lucrative deals. Microsoft launched a $100 million effort to create MSN Advantage Marketing, a program to lure traditional companies to develop ads using their technology. A week later, AOL Time Warner created a global marketing solutions group to sell ad packages that span its various businesses.

Toyota is poised to take advantage of both developments. It will use Microsoft's Web streaming technology to create 15-second multimedia advertisements that can be viewed at WindowsMedia.com. The ads will also be viewable on the new Windows Media Player that will launch with Microsoft's upcoming Windows XP operating system, scheduled to launch Oct. 25.

"We are extending our message online so that consumers can experience the Camry brand through interactive audio and video on MSN," Sturm said.

Toyota will also advertise heavily throughout Microsoft's MSN Web portal. The promotion will include pictures of the new car on MSN's home page and throughout its CarPoint online auto guide.

With AOL Time Warner, Toyota will become a primary sponsor for Time magazine's "Music Goes Global" issue, which will hit newsstands Sept. 24. Other Time Inc. magazines, such as People, Entertainment Weekly, In Style, Money and Southern Living, will also feature advertisements of the car.

The Camry will also appear in online promotions such as the upcoming "Music Goes Global" Web site, and will be promoted throughout AOL Time Warner's Internet services, such as America Online, Netscape and CompuServe.

AOL Time Warner has persistently touted the benefits of selling advertising across its many businesses as one justification of the $147 billion merger that created the company. About 25 percent of the company's revenue comes from advertising, which executives have considered relatively small compared with other media companies.

Nonetheless, the slowdown of the advertising market has spread into AOL Time Warner's financial statement as well. The company last quarter fell short of Wall Street's revenue expectations. Some financial analysts have also curtailed estimates and have expressed concern that the company would not meet its revenue estimates for the year.

AOL Time Warner has fixed its financial goals for 2001 at $40 billion in revenue and $11 billion in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxation, depreciation and amortization).