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Everybody wants a Beetle

U's VW pact takes back seat to Disney pic promo

NBC Universal has barely had time to kick the tires on its strategic marketing deal with Volkswagen, but rival Disney is already zipping around in VW’s most prominent vehicle, the Beetle.

With “Herbie: Fully Loaded” set to hit theaters June 22, U’s plans for co-branded VW theme park attractions and TV shows have taken a backseat to the Mouse House’s promo push for its update of the vintage comedies, which stars Lindsay Lohan.

VW has been plugging Disney’s film with high-priced space at the Detroit and New York auto shows, while Disney has put the carmaker’s new-style Beetle in the film as a love interest for the retro-model Herbie.

NASCAR driver Dale Jarrett (who appears in the film) and his UPS-sponsored team are racing with Herbie colors. Radio Shack is onboard with everything from mini RC Herbies to bringing full-scale Herbie to racetracks, and Nextel is partnering on a cross-country promo tour.

The deal to revive Herbie — who made his first appearance in “The Love Bug” in 1969 — was well under way before the U deal was struck in January, and Stephanie Sperber, exec VP, Universal Studios Partnerships, says the studio never expected its pact with VW to be mutually exclusive.

“When we sign these corporate relationships, for the most part we get married and be monogamous, but we don’t expect our partner to be the same,” she says.

Indeed, Volkswagen couldn’t pass up the chance to hype its most famous vehicle in tandem with Disney’s pic.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to make the Love Bug famous,” says Volkswagen exec director of marketing Jorn Hinrichs.

Meanwhile, U’s had to settle for more modest promotions with VW, like the use of the carmaker’s high-end Phaeton sedans at the studio’s pre-Oscar party.

Sperber says U is in the process of creating a theme park presence for VW, including car displays, preferential parking, sponsored rides, and even branded vacation packages.

But if the kids want to see the world’s most famous Beetle at a theme park, they’ll have to go not to U’s parks but to Disney World. Herbie’s already appearing there in the Extreme Stunt Show.

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