AUBURN HILLS, MI – Chrysler Group’s marketing spend on the ’07 Caliber launch accounts for 20% of the Dodge brand’s 2006 publicity budget, larger than any other Dodge nameplate.

Caliber needs the boost because it is a new nameplate, and because its target customer likely never has set foot in a Dodge showroom before. So the campaign, which launches in earnest this week, is “as much about the brand as Caliber,” says George Murphy, senior vice-president-Chrysler Group global marketing.

Murphy declines to reveal the promotion’s price tag. But it will entail television, print and Internet advertising, along with product placement in video games that are popular with young adults.

Murphy says television accounts for about 50% of the Caliber’s marketing budget. But 20% of the pie, two to four times the size of most campaigns, is devoted to an Internet presence.

That is because the public is increasingly intolerant of messages they don’t control, says Mark Spencer, senior manager-Dodge communications. “They’re tuning us out and turning us off,” he says, adding Internet advertising affords the consumer a say in what they will and will not see and hear.

And the target audience for the Caliber’s message includes the most discerning media consumers: bold, hip, urbanites between 25 and 35 years old who spend an inordinate amount of time online or playing video games and get their news from sources such as “The Daily Show,” which stars irreverent comic Jon Stewart.

Indeed, irreverence is a key element of Caliber’s extensive ad campaign, which is going global, just like the car. In one print ad, a Caliber is seen with its rear end perched on a photocopier – lid up and activated.

In a television spot titled “Moon Dog,” a motley-looking mixed breed faces down – sort of – a bevy of prissy miniatures seen hanging their heads out of competing rides. The mongrel hangs its tail from a passenger-side window of a sinister black Caliber.

The tag-line for Caliber: “Anything But Cute.” This message, Spencer admits, likely will skew toward men so Chrysler is spending with publications such as Maxim.

But the car also is expected to resonate with women and a significant percentage of young women are frequent consumers of male-oriented media, Spencer claims. Esquire’s readership is 40% female, he says.

The television ads will be featured on shows ranging from “Desperate Housewives” to “Law and Order.”

Separate ads have been developed for African-American and Hispanic audiences. Their themes also stress youth and vitality and each has its own tag-line: “Respect the Unexpected,” for African-American consumers; and “Lightweight. A lot of Character,” for Hispanic audiences.

The latter features a boxer in training, a theme also reflected in Caliber’s placement in the video game, Fight Night 3.

Feature content such as MusicGate, Caliber’s articulating speaker system, and ChillZone, a glove-box cooler, get starring roles in the campaign. This despite three fuel-efficient new engines and the availability of a continually variable transmission – a Chrysler first.

Again, given Caliber’s newness to the market as well as the brand, a powertrain message was considered too complex for mass media marketing, Murphy says. However, complete information on this topic is available on the Internet and dealers across the country have undergone half-day training sessions about Caliber’s technology – and how to handle customers who are new to the brand.

The mainstream campaign was devised by BBDO, which actually pitched a pair of concepts to Chrysler executives. Both played up Dodge’s reputation for building “tough” vehicles so well, the auto maker is considering the alternate campaign for its Nitro SUV rollout this fall.

But it was not a 2-for-1 deal.

“I’m paying for both of them,” Murphy tells Ward's.

emayne@wardsauto.com