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Pontiac's Sunfire is hot, which comes as no surprise to John Gray.

Some 18 months before the compact's 1995 launch, Mr. Gray was told to define the compact's market niche and design a matching message. Sunfire was the replacement for the affordable, functional Sunbird, but Mr. Gray says the category had changed-along with its buyers, the 18-to-29 year-old crowd, and their needs.

Working with agency D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles, Bloomfield Hills, Mich., target buyers were asked to make collages to show their relationships to their cars.

Mr. Gray says they learned the target "wanted to make going anywhere great fun," and "a lot in creative bubbled up" from that.

Sunfire's positioning had to match the needs of athletic, adventuresome, twentysomething (vs. Mr. Gray's 54 years), first-time buyers.

The Sunfire was introduced in February 1995; supporting was $32.2 million in measured media ad spending, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

TV spots showed the Sunfire zooming around exotic places, while print ads featured bold-colored backgrounds.

Mr. Gray, now Pontiac's strategic market planning manager, says these sporty and youthful venues helped brand the Sunfire.

This strategy helped push Sunfire's '95 sales to about 75,000, or some 11% over 1994's combined sales of the Sunfire and Sunbird. And 1996 model sales jumped 173% from the 1995 model sales.

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