DETROIT -- Last fall, Chevrolet's marketers were drawing up a promotional stunt for the launch of the Sonic subcompact that was so wild they decided they had better get the blessing of General Motors' top executives and corporate lawyers.
The plan: Have an amateur driver -- a professional skateboarder -- jump a 50-foot span between ramps while flipping the car 360 degrees. The maneuver was to be performed live and footage used in scads of Sonic marketing. But was it promoting reckless driving? What if he crashed?
GM's top brass ended up green-lighting the stunt. Driver Rob Dyrdek stuck the landing.
And so did Chevy's marketing team. Over the first half of this year, Sonic sales surged to No. 2 in the crowded and competitive U.S. subcompact market, from the No. 4 or 5 position routinely occupied by its predecessor, the Aveo. The Nissan Versa is No. 1.
People inside and outside of GM say that the six-month, Web-only launch built awareness and street cred with 20- and 30-somethings before Chevrolet introduced the car to a wider audience through TV spots. It offers a template for future launches of youth-oriented cars, such as the upcoming Chevy Spark minicar.
People who worked on the Sonic "Let's Do This" campaign say they achieved a goal that caused doubts even among themelves: to make Chevrolet seem hip in the eyes of a generation that hadn't thought much about Chevy at all.