BIRMINGHAM, MI – Chrysler LLC’s digital media buy is reaching record levels this year with the launches of two key ’09 Dodge-brand products: the all-new Journey cross/utility vehicle and redesigned Ram pickup.

The digital component of the Journey’s marketing campaign, which features homepage takeovers that begin this week on AOL, accounts for 29% of the total push. This is a milestone for Chrysler, surpassing the 24% and 20% digital-media budgets set aside for the ’08 Jeep Liberty SUV and ’07 Dodge Caliber hatchback, respectively.

However, Deborah Meyer, vice president and chief marketing officer, expects the mid-summer Ram launch will up the ante to 30%.

Will it go higher with each launch?

“I think 30% is the right mix,” Meyer says here at a media preview for Journey ads and an umbrella campaign to introduce Chrysler LLC in its post-DaimlerChrysler phase.

The latter breaks April 14 and features the tagline: “If you can dream it, we can build it.”

The importance of digital media has grown exponentially, Chrysler executives say. Less than three years ago, Chrysler’s digital-media spend was about 5%, says Mark Spencer, senior manager-Dodge communications.

The Internet is “a great tool,” Meyer adds, noting its capacity to collect feedback quickly.

“You can get so much done to understand where your messages are working (and) not working,” she says.

A recent study suggests websites play a critical role in influencing showroom traffic. In terms of customer satisfaction, it ranked the Chrysler brand’s consumer website second – behind Honda but tied with Ford.

Television accounts for the bulk of Chrysler’s Journey campaign budget. Print ads will appear in magazines ranging from People to Sports Illustrated.

Conceived by BBDO, the ads feature clever acronyms. One says the Journey offers more “LPG – Life Per Gallon.”

Chrysler is unafraid the Journey will be stigmatized as a ride for “soccer moms,” even though it also is the official vehicle of America’s national soccer teams.

In the marketplace, the soccer-mom label has a negative connotation that conveys banality. Most often, it has been applied to minivans, and Chrysler considers the Journey to be a replacement for its discontinued short-wheelbase minivans.

But the Journey’s marketing message is “not about motherhood and nurturing,” Spencer tells Ward’s. “It’s about professional athletes.”

Stepping into the spotlight on this summer’s Olympic Games in Beijing, Chrysler will broadcast a television ad that features the U.S. women’s team as they drive a Dodge Journey to Brazil and demand a rematch. The Americans beat Brazil to win soccer gold at the 2004 Olympics, but Brazil bounced the U.S. from the 2007 World Cup tournament.

Journey ads will deliver targeted messages to a pair of demographics that share similarly active lifestyles.

One group consists of young singles, young couples and couples with young children.

“I call them the young and the cramped,” Spencer says.

Empty-nesters comprise the second group.

Chrysler’s broader corporate message is meant to shed light on the operation, under new management since it was acquired last year by Cerberus Capital Management LP.

“That’s a dialogue we need to have,” Meyer says, adding the auto maker has been inundated with questions.

“Companies are going in all kinds of different directions,” she says. “There’s a lot of messaging out there. It’s important that people know what every brand or company stands for. They’re looking for that. The average consumer is much more brand-savvy, marketing-savvy than we’ve ever seen before.”

Meanwhile, Chrysler’s Internet-based consumer advisory board has expanded. Launched 10 days ago to tap into the minds of today’s consumers, the auto maker planned on a 2,000-member board.

But Chrysler has received 5,600 applications, so it has expanded the board to 5,000 members, Meyer says. That will allow for subcommittees to assess the demands of women consumers or youth, she adds.

“The response has really surprised me,” Meyer says.

emayne@wardsauto.com