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American Isuzu Motors will take its rifle-shot approach even further in the 2000 model year.

In sponsoring off-the-beaten-path sports with more marketing dollars, Isuzu will try to connect more often with their fans. Isuzu also will begin an affiliation with top athletes involved in the activities.

"This is more than a 'me-too' sponsorship of snowboarding," said Bob Reilly, American Isuzu general manager. "We need to show how distinctive we are, based on the events we affiliate ourselves with."

That means sponsoring more events like the Ironman Triathlon and the Eco-Challenge extreme orienteering contest. But Isuzu isn't interested in extreme sports, such as synchronized skydiving or street luge, which already are cluttered with automakers trying to tap into Generation X.

Rather, Isuzu wants to align itself with serious athleticism, such as the Race Across America, in which cyclists race 22 hours a day from Irvine, Calif., to Savannah, Ga.

"The No. 1 male and female triathletes in the world drive Isuzus, but who knows who they are? The demographic and psychographic we want to appeal to knows who they are," Mr. Reilly said. "We want to associate with the people who climb the North Face [in Yosemite], who surf at San Onofre. It's a real limited demographic."

But it's more than just putting an Isuzu in the garages of those top athletes and using the athletes as promotional tools. Isuzu wants to be sure the athletes already own Isuzus, to show the link is genuine.

That also means different ad tactics.

In the past, Isuzu stuck with the mainstream recipe of "dirt roads and mud holes," but Mr. Reilly promises "something decidedly different" for the upcoming model year-although the brand's "Go farther" tagline via agency Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, will remain.


"The message is more than 'I want to buy it because so-and-so drives one,' " Mr. Reilly said. "We want to show how that top athlete [decided] to buy an Isuzu and put it in his driveway."

Mr. Reilly admitted Isuzu's tactics are a matter of splitting marketing hairs: "The difference between excitement and genuine enthusiasm compared to pandering to a group of people is not an easy position to stake out."

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