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The car that says "Hi" turned out to be a "hit" and proved that a marketer could reach Generation X without stereotypical portrayals of young adults.

The success of the Neon vindicated Chrysler Corp.'s risky decision to try building a small car profitably in America, and has earned the car Advertising Age's Product of the Year honors. Chrysler sold more than 160,000 Neons through November, and its biggest problem now is producing enough to meet demand.

With Neon, Chrysler showed an agility in product development and marketing that has made it an automotive trendsetter, not to mention a robustly profitable one.

One reason Neon recognition rocketed is that Chrysler decided on a single model name to be shared by the Dodge and Plymouth brands.

That saved money in development, while allowing the company to put all its marketing money into a unified campaign that developed Neon as a virtual brand.

Chrysler and BBDO Worldwide, Southfield, Mich., rejected the idea of trying to portray the lifestyles of the target audience, a tactic Chrysler President Robert Lutz derisively referred to as "putting on the gorilla suit."

Instead, BBDO's campaign developed a fun, huggable personality for the car, right through to the whimsical "Hi" that appeared over the vehicle.

The best indication of Neon's impact is that competitors took notice. Toyota Motor Corp. engineers in Japan tore down a Neon to analyze how Chrysler held down costs, and marketers from Kia Motors to General Motors Corp.'s Pontiac are positioning their new products in relation to Neon.

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