ISUZU'S SPEEDY VEHICROSS TO SERVE AS BRAND 'HALO': AUTOMAKER LAYS CLAIM TO BEING A SPECIALIST IN THE SUV FIELD

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American Isuzu Motors focuses on its 83-year truck heritage in the sole launch commercial for its new VehiCross sport-utility vehicle.

"We don't even need to advertise to sell the vehicle," said Tom Cavanagh, executive manager of advertising communications at Isuzu. "But we're using VehiCross to make a statement about our brand-that Isuzu is an SUV specialist."

Only 2,500 of the 1999 model will be available, and U.S. dealers had ordered the entire wholesale inventory by the end of December.

LIKE VIPER, CORVETTE

Other car marketers also market so-called "halo" vehicles, usually high-performance, higher priced and with limited availability; the Dodge Viper and Chevrolet Corvette are two examples.

Mr. Cavanagh said Isuzu will market VehiCross like Dodge markets the Viper.

VehiCross, which sells for just under $30,000, "goes like a bat out of hell," said Mr. Cavanagh.

The 30-second spot from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, features a VehiCross driver who surprises a man in a speeding, rocketlike car on the Bonneville Salt Flats, informing him his wallet is on the trunk.

VehiCross "shows off what Isuzu is doing and can do," said Jeff Goodby, partner and creative director at the agency.

The target for the six-cylinder, 215-horsepower SUV is 70% male with a household income in the $75,000 range, between the ages of 25 and 49.

Although spending for the TV and print VehiCross effort is only about $1 million, ad expenditures for the all-truck brand have been rising. Isuzu spent $137.2 million in measured media in 1998 vs. $91.2 million in '97, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

TV PUSH ON NCAA

The TV spot broke last week during the NCAA basketball tournament on CBS and continues through the final game. The spot will then run in 28 spot markets for a week.

Print ads are breaking now in magazines, including Fortune and ESPN the Magazine, as well as national newspapers.

James Hall, VP-industry analysis at consultancy AutoPacific, said Isuzu is smart to use VehiCross ads to create general brand awareness because the SUV category is so crowded.

The vehicle's "eye-catching" styling will turn heads on the road, he said.

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