NEW YORK: Major automakers like Ford, Lexus and Chevrolet are heightening their use of digital media to engage shoppers in new ways.

Lexus has tapped Twitter members boasting large numbers of fans to promote its CT model, and created online videos showing comedian Whitney Cummings asking well-known figures their opinions after driving the car.

Baratunde Thurston, online editor of satirical title the Onion, Brian Solis, principal of marketing agency FutureWorks, and Richard Quitevis, also known as DJ Qbert, were among the featured participants.

"If we have people that are active in social media, then they can bring followers with them," Dave Nordstrom, Lexus's vp, marketing, told the Wall Street Journal.

Celebrities adding relevant comments to Twitter to date include singer Goapele and chef Grant Achatz.

Jonas Hallberg, co-founder of Skinny, an agency which worked on this campaign, suggested input from high-profile individuals should "propagate the message."

One key element of the initiative is complete openness regarding the fact Lexus provided remuneration for those taking part.

"I am not contractually obligated to tweet positively," said Solis. "[I was] only asked to disclose that I was paid to be part of the program."

Ford pioneered this kind of approach with the Ford Fiesta Movement, where 100 influential netizens drove the new model for a month, uploading their views to platforms such as Twitter, YouTube and Flickr.

Alongside yielding more than 7m YouTube impressions and four million "tweets", 130,000 consumers visited a dedicated website - 83% of which did not own a Ford.

"People trust people like themselves, and when we can tap into these people, it will sound less like Ford tooting its own horn," Scott Monty, Ford's global digital communications manager, argued.

Based on a similar theme, the company is requesting "bloggers, social media mavens and Facebook friends" apply for the "Ford Focus Global Test Drive", touring the car around France and Spain.

For 2010 thus far, Ford has allocated 25% of its adspend to digital channels, doubling the industry average.

"Customers are spending as much time with the mobile smartphone or online as they are watching TV now, so our advertising dollars have to flow to where the people are," said Jim Farley, Ford's group vp, global marketing, sales and service.

"You have to shove your way in there. The way we do that is to break down myths. The great thing about Americans is they are always hungry for something new."

Elsewhere, GM is hoping generate buzz about electric vehicle the Chevrolet Volt by tasking US marketing vice president Joel Ewanick to drive it from Detroit to the Los Angeles Auto Show.

As well as a blog containing video and photos, it will leverage Twitter and Facebook to encourage interest in this emerging category.

"It's a proof of concept for me," said Ewanick. "Some of the technology is so sophisticated. I want to help people understand it's a real car, one that can be your only car."

Volkswagen also recently unveiled a "Digital Business Strategy" centred on a redesigned website carrying a variety of new features.

"The United States is the global leader when it comes to the internet," said Luca de Meo, VW's head of group marketing.

"We intend to utilise the experience gathered in North American for the further rollout of the initiative worldwide."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Reuters, GM, Volkswagen; additional content by Warc staff