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To convince consumers that American Honda Motor Co.'s CR-V could compete in the crowded sport-utility vehicle market, Paul Sellers positioned it as a fun outdoor ute, rather than a tough and rugged truck.

"We wanted to try to appeal to men and/or the masculine side of women to help fuel the side of a brand that hadn't been considered before," says Mr. Sellers, 46, former national ad manager at Honda, who moved to sports marketer Intersport, Los Angeles, as VP-director of sales and marketing in March.

About six months before the car was introduced, Mr. Sellers set up a CR-V Web link from Honda's Internet site that previewed the car and invited visitors to contact their local dealership for more information. The online promotion attracted 110,000 potential CR-V buyers.

The first TV spot broke during the 1997 Super Bowl and showed the CR-V crossing the pages of USA Today.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based agency Rubin Postaer & Associates highlighted the "fun and youthful aspect" of the CR-V. Later spots featured a group of guys signed up for a survivalist retreat in the forest, but one of them encounters a woman camping out in her CR-V and he returns to his haggard buddies after a week, clean shaven and well-rested.

Honda has spent between $10 million and $20 million on media for the sport ute each year, according to Mr. Sellers. Honda sold 51,000 CR-Vs in 1997, 92,000 in 1998, and expects 1999 figures to reach 97,000. It is now the best-selling compact sport ute.

"Consumers wanted a car that had functionality" at an affordable price, says Mr.

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