VW is reaching for the stars with the launch of its latest model, Mark Sweney writes.

For the launch campaign of the Volkswagen Phaeton, VW's first luxury car, the company has built its media strategy around the very concept of luxury.

This approach for the Phaeton, as well as that of the recent launch of VW's first luxury 4x4, the Touareg, forms the leading edge of a much larger plan to add a touch of class to VW's image.

"They are two of the most important launches for VW, as we are trying to move the centre of gravity of the brand more upmarket. We don't want to alienate the existing customer base but we want to show that we can provide cars across a complete range of sectors," Rod McLeod, the head of luxury cars at Volkswagen, says.

Brand differentiation is also an important strand in the Phaeton gameplan.

Accordingly, VW has chosen its media with care. For example, it has eschewed television in order to differentiate the Phaeton from its rivals such as the Mercedes S class and BMW 7 series marques, which are heavily dependent on the medium.

"The campaign touches on a large number of media - we didn't want to just throw millions at television - and, because it is a very targeted campaign, below the line is more important than usual," McLeod says.

Instead of TV's somewhat scattergun approach, a direct mail campaign through Proximity London will target 60,000 luxury car buying prospects.

The pack features a hardback book in a matte-black sleeve to reflect the luxury theme.

"It may be tempting to produce a pack that apes competitors in this sector but our point of difference is tonality," McLeod says. "VW has quite an understated tone and although the car has exact standards we won't push it using superlatives."

Websites associated with luxury including Classic FM and CNN Traveller will carry ads created by Tribal DDB. Images based on stars and galaxies (a play on the brand's name) will run in five phases, starting with non-branded executions to establish intrigue.

The press advertising for the brand focuses on upmarket titles. MediaCom planned and bought ads in publications such as The Economist, Director, The Times, the Financial Times, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph.

Executions will also run in consumer titles including Wallpaper, New Scientist and Golf World. The creative was developed by the German agency Grabarz and adapted to the UK market by BMP DDB.

Typically, VW has also stepped off the well-worn media path and arranged a number of creative tie-ins with non-media brands that already have a high-quality image, through the PR agency Lexis.

Selfridges in London and Manchester is turning 18 display windows into a showcase for both the Phaeton and Touareg. The promotion will include a three-minute brand film for each vehicle and ten two-minute lifestyle films, which will be shown on plasma screens.

The lifestyle films feature classy brand ambassadors such as the actors Minnie Driver and Billy Zane, the architect behind London's Groucho and 192 clubs, Tchaik Chassay, and the Tatler journalist David Profumo.

The brand ambassadors shot the films themselves.

"Selfridges provides a great synergy with luxury," McLeod says.

Another Lexis deal was a three-month sponsorship of the Tate galleries in London and Liverpool to offer top-quality prospects exclusive evenings to promote both models.

The agency also handled a number of product-placement deals including one with Soho House - which has a presence at the Cannes Advertising Festival each year - that will see VW provide all transport for the 2003 event.

And VW is extending the idea of luxury well beyond the launch phase. In a tie-up with the London concierge company Quintessentially, Phaeton buyers are being offered access to a personal assistance service, called Essentially, for one year. This can track down hard-to-find tickets, or even source a plumber. For VW's "time-poor, cash-rich" target, such help is probably the ultimate luxury.