Volkswagen of America is this month launching a new advertising and marketing campaign called Das Auto, German for 'the car'.

It "will build on Volkswagen's unique place in pop culture through its message of 'It's What the People Want'," the US unit said in a statement.

The campaign will introduce Max, described as "an iconic, quirky, talking 1964 black Beetle".

The campaign begins with an extensive targeted television, print and online advertising effort, as well as integration into 'social media' channels.

In each spot, Max has candid conversations with notable figures from pop culture in a talk show setting. The discussions focus on Volkswagen's intuition on what the people want.

Guests include supermodel Heidi Klum, pop and TV personality David Hasselhoff, Star Trek's Leonard Nimoy, NASA astronaut Richard Searfoss, music-sharing innovator Shawn Fanning and former basketball coach Bob Knight.

"Volkswagen has always occupied a unique and positive place in both American car culture and American popular culture.  And the brand is as relevant today as it has ever been," said Tim Ellis, vice president of marketing at Volkswagen of America.  "Max personifies Volkswagen's past, present and vision for the future. Through him, we will reconnect with American consumers and let them know how Volkswagen understands and responds to what the people want."

VW America will need to reconnect with consumers. The auto consumer website The Car Connection (TCC) noted in its blog: "[its] sales are slumping and the declining dollar is causing billion-dollar losses".

VW will introduce Max in a series of teaser ads in major market daily newspapers that will introduce his knowledge of what the people want. To complement the print ads, an interactive polling program will simultaneously rollout on the automaker's US consumer website. A collection of thirty-second television spots will follow throughout April.

VW said the Das Auto campaign and Max would be integrated directly into all aspects of the company's business in 2008, including five new model launches - the Tiguan compact SUV, Routan minivan [the Chrysler-built minivan], CC, 'clean-diesel' Jetta TDI and Jetta SportsWagen - as well as the existing range.

"Max will be the centrepiece in the introductory phase and then will take a back seat to form the connective tissue for all other product communications," VW said.

The campaign is the first under the new direction of Tim Ellis, who took the helm in January.

He said: "Through Das Auto, we are reaffirming the brand's commitment to bring innovative, responsible and value-driven auto-making to the people."

Meet Max here