DETROIT – General Motors undertakes one of its boldest marketing campaigns ever this month when it launches the new-for-’12 Chevrolet Sonic, focusing almost entirely on digital and social-networking media targeting young, hip consumers.
“This is new ground for Chevrolet,” Kevin Mayer, director of Chevrolet advertising, tells journalists during a briefing on the campaign at GM world headquarters here.
GM does not provide details on the cost or scope of the effort, developed with agency partner Goodby Silverstein & Partners. Goodby Silverstein crafted the 1-year-old “Chevy Runs Deep” brand campaign getting a second look from GM for its mixed results.
“It’s a significant buy for us,” Mayer says.
The Sonic represents GM’s latest U.S. B-car, succeeding the Aveo and squarely aimed at the popular Nissan Versa and Ford Fiesta.
According to WardsAuto segmentation, Lower Small cars – which includes B-level entries, steadily have gained share in recent years. Through first-half 2011, they accounted for 2.7% of the nation’s light-vehicle market, up from less than 1% in 2005.
Experts widely expect the segment’s share of industry to grow further as fuel prices move higher and the quality of its entries improve. The per-gallon price of regular-grade gasoline was averaging $3.40 this week in the U.S., up from $2.26 in 2005, according to the American Automobile Assn.
Designed at the auto maker’s Asia/Pacific studios, the Sonic boasts more personality than the Aveo. North American engineers focused on making it fun to drive with a taut suspension and an available 1.4L turbocharged 4-cyl. engine.
Early criticism of the sedan and hatchback has been positive. A WardsAuto review called it “athletic,” adding the car “effortlessly” delivers acceleration on demand.
The Sonic campaign launching Oct. 15 hopes to convey the same message of “firsts” to its target group of buyers – young, college-educated consumers between 18 and 30 years old and perhaps purchasing their first car.
The effort will be entirely digital for the first three months, focusing on outlets such as the Yahoo! search engine, Facebook social-networking community and YouTube video-sharing websites.
Chevy marketers also will use grassroots and promotional events, such as tapping into the street-art movement.
Mayer says the culture of the so-called Millennial generation dictates that Sonic marketing connect differently.
“You can’t just talk to them about it, you have to be out there showing it to them,” he says. “We’re going to create adventures; we’re going to create content.”
An interactive website, will serve as a key element of the campaign.
Visitors can use mouse clicks to edge a real-life Sonic to the edge of 10-story structure in Long Beach, CA. At some point the Sonic will go over the edge in a bungee-jump stunt.
GM also will use a recently filmed video of a Sonic performing a parachute jump as part of a big advertising spot on YouTube. The auto maker recently performed the stunt in Arizona, dropping the car three times with 25 cameras filming from different angles.
In addition, Sonic website visitors can participate in a game where they perform wacky stunts to earn badges. Ten Sonics will be given to winners.
The campaign marks a departure from tradition for GM and Chevy, which traditionally rely on themes highlighting brand heritage, family and value.
Mayer says GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson and GM North America President Mark Reuss signed off on the project.
GM will broaden the Sonic campaign next year to include more traditional television and print executions.
The Sonic also speaks to the direction of Chevy under the new GM after its 2009 bankruptcy. The auto maker is committed to offering competitive entries in every segment where it competes instead of relying heavily on big-ticket products such as fullsize pickups and SUVs as it did in the past.
Last year, Chevy launched the Cruze compact car and it has seen tremendous success. A redesigned Malibu midsize sedan arrives in the first quarter of next year and the Spark A-segment car will follow.