Chevy’s Appeal to Sonic Youth hails the Chevrolet Sonic as “a quantum leap forward from the Aveo it replaced” in 2012 as a sporty ride under $20,000 for twentysomethings. It praises the car’s sharp styling and nimble handling and states that the Sonic feels more premium than its price would suggest. Unfortunately for Chevrolet, the popular auto rating site has similar praise for other youthful subcompacts such as the Kia Soul, the Fiat 500, and the Honda Fit.

“It’s a crowded segment,” says Chevrolet Advertising Manager Matthew Scarlett.

From the launch of the Sonic, Chevy marketers positioned this car for first-time buyers as the vehicle for first-time discoveries. In a series of Youtube videos—and a “Stunt Anthem” spot first aired during the 2012 Super Bowl broadcast—Chevy pictured the Sonic bungee-jumping, skydiving, and kick-flipping. Scarlett remains on a relentless pursuit for firsts to take part in. In fact, he quickly jumped on an 11th hour opportunity to cosponsor Red Bull’s stunt featuring Felix Baumgartner parachuting from space. The Sonic’s original video skydive was used as a pre-roll before Baumgartener’s live jump and, according to Google, got 9.7 million impressions and more than 80,000 clicks.

Last year, Sonic became a sponsor of the mtvU Woodie Awards, a program aimed at introducing up and coming musical groups at the South By Southwest Festival and promoting the MTV division that airs a 24-hour network on 750 college campuses. These were Sonic’s people–the first-timers—and music was the brand’s realm. “We Are Young” by Fun became a breakout hit shortly after it was used as the theme music in Sonic’s Super Bowl spot. “We’ve worked hard to learn who this target [customer] was and where and when [that person] consumes media, online and mobile,” says Scarlett. “The MTV audience is absolutely who were targeting.”

Chevy uses Consumer Connection System, an insight program that gathers data on how and why target customers are consuming media. “It gives us an idea of who they are and what their passions in life tend to be,” Scarlett says.  “For example, we know the small car target [customer] carries a very active lifestyle with passions against music and gaming.”

In keeping with the brand theme, the Chevy team decided to up the ante during this month’s Woodie Awards, sponsoring the first “Chevy Sonic College Artist Award.” The contest travelled all the media byways where Chevy had determined its targets lurked. Sonic and MTV partnered on a website where college bands entering the contest could post their videos. The winner was chosen by online fan votes, and contesting bands were encouraged to promote themselves to fans via social media.

A series of videos chronicled the Lonely Biscuits, a band from Belmont University in Nashville, being notified of their victory by an MTV host in a Sonic, their ensuing trip to Austin and SXSW, and their televised performance on an MTV broadcast on March 17. The Sonic, of course, was front and center on the trip, displaying unique features such as hands-free Siri access and an on-board navigation system available for a one-time payment of $50.

Some 1.2 million people cast votes in the College Artist Woodie balloting, more than 750,000 watched the TV broadcast, and Chevrolet looks for a halo effect as the Lonely Biscuits set out on what they hope is a not-so-lonely journey to stardom. Though not attributed singularly to the Sonic promotion, MTV reports a 66% increase in visitors to the Woodies site this year, a 33% increase in on-demand show streams, and a tripling of mobile activity. “We use front-end metrics when evaluating digital media–impressions, CTR, views, etcetera,” Scarlett says. “Creative and social is also reviewed to see interaction and engagement levels.”

“This audience is used to getting content on demand, so you have to use bridge strategies to keep them engaged,” says Paul Kelly, MTV’s VP of integrated marketing. “The differentiator for this program is to have the Woodies live beyond the band performing on-stage.” One of the prizes awarded the Lonely Biscuits was a deal to record and issue a single.

Scarlett says that the competitive arena the Sonic plays in forces Chevy marketers to develop good instincts and not waste time jumping on the right opportunities. “If you understand this customer and how you want to communicate with them,” he says, “you have to put great creative in front of them, and I think we did.”

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