Yesterday, Chrysler demonstrated eight factory customized Jeep and Dodge vehicles at the 44th annual Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah. Five of the trucks are one-off hand-built concept cars that show what might be possible. The other three are modified production vehicles designed to showcase select add-on parts. All of them are very cool and show some unique thinking.

What’s most interesting to me is how these vehicles were introduced. Chrysler had a big event, invited a bunch of media folk, and sent out press releases. Standard procedure. But backcountry vehicle enthusiasts have known about these trucks for some time. More importantly, they’ve also been talking about them. Why? Because Chrysler started the conversation and gave its fans the tools to carry it forward.

Rumors and occasionally images of the vehicles began to surface weeks before the official launch event. A couple of weeks ago, Chrysler released some concept sketches of some of the vehicles. These began to circulate and appear on blogs and in online forums and got folks talking about what might actually show up at Moab. A day later we saw some spy photos of one of the trucks, a Ram Power Wagon concept, out on the public roads in Michigan. The volume of the conversations in the forums went up several notches.

On March 27, several days before the official launch, the JP Magazine blog published pictures of a till-then secret Chrysler concept truck. The photos were taken in a dark parking lot and delivered more of an impression than any real details. But the copy mentioned some technical information that could not have been seen just by looking at the truck. The forums were filled with talk about this secret new truck.

Of course other blogs and media outlets picked up the story and it began to gain a lot of momentum.  For the next couple of days JP Magazine continued to release more dark teaser photos of additional Chrysler concept trucks saying things like, “Yet another Jeep we weren’t supposed to see ’till Wednesday.” The title of that blog post was “Mopar Project Left in Parking Lot.”

I think if Chrysler had really wanted to keep the project secret, they could have done that. I doubt they would have left it sitting in a parking lot where the media would see it. And I think that JP Magazine staffers have much better photography skills than they let on. They are after all part of a major media empire that publishes more than 70 magazines and produces 90 websites, plus television and radio programs.

But the pictures got people talking about the trucks and the launch event. The buzz built and took off. I’ll admit that more than once in the next few days I Googled “Mopar Moab Safari” looking for more information. I wanted to know more about these trucks. I was thinking about Chrysler and its products.

So the big launch event is over, the press releases have gone out and are just about forgotten. But the buzz is still going on. YouTube has got videos of the trucks on the trails. Chrysler added them to its corporate blog. These videos are short and they’re not slick. The cameras are hand held and the microphone picked up off-camera voices and wind noise. The videos look just like they came from a bunch of guys out driving their trucks in the dirt. Just regular guys doing regular guy stuff. Except they show one-off factory custom vehicles and they were produced by a professional media team.

That’s no accident. That’s smart marketing.

If a zillion-dollar car company uses hand-held YouTube videos and Facebook to get a bunch of enthusiasts to share its story, maybe your business ought to give it a try.

Here’s a YouTube video from Chysler: