General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet division is using sponsorship to generate a buzz around the October launch of the new Sonic subcompact.

The Sonic—which replaces the Chevy Aveo—is aimed at Ford Motor Co.’s Fiesta; Hyundai Motor America’s Accent; Nissan North America, Inc.’s Versa and other vehicles in the subcompact segment.

Small cars represent a major growth area for GM and other auto manufacturers. Sales in the U.S. subcompact market are expected to more than double by 2016 to 925,000 cars annually, according to research firm IHS.

GM this month kicked off an online marketing campaign designed to promote Sonic to 18-to-34-year-old early adopters. The campaign—dubbed “Let’s Do This” —highlights attention-grabbing adventures. For example, features a Sonic bungee jumping off a temporary structure.

The auto maker is supporting the campaign with a handful of local and regional sponsorships ranging from music events to college athletes and pop culture confabs.

For example, Sonic this year came on board as a new sponsor of the Oct. 13-16 New York Comic Con and the Aug. 5 Music Drives Chicago launch party for the Music Blogger’s Assn. of America.

GM also is running a Sonic promotion around Chevy’s partnership with The Pennsylvania State University athletics.

Activation Focuses on Creativity, Social Media
To connect with its young-adult audience, Chevy is activating Sonic sponsorships by playing up creativity and online engagement.

That was a major driver behind Sonic’s sponsorship of NY Comic Con.

“We are trying to market Sonic to early adopters—those are first to try all-things new. They are immersed in pop culture, can spot trends early and have the power to transform a simple trend into a lifestyle,” said William Fleck, Northeast regional marketing manager for Chevrolet, in a statement.

GM leveraged the sponsorship with four on-site vehicles customized by illustrators in the comic book industry. Artists customized a fifth car in front of attendees throughout the three day festival.

Event organizer ReedPop helped create the activation program to help Sonic connect with attendees in a credible, authentic way.

“Non-endemic brands have to be authentic in how they participate. There would be an upheaval if someone plopped an SUV in the middle of the pop culture exhibit floor. We have to be careful how we execute,” said Larry Settembrini, sales director with ReedPop, a division of Reed Elsevier plc’s Reed Exhibitions.

GM also activated the tie with a helium-filled Sonic balloon and on-site displays of the Volt hybrid and Transformers-themed Camero sports car.

To encourage attendees to check out the vehicles, GM ran an on-site scavenger hunt that dangled an Apple iPad. Attendees had to visit the vehicles to participate in the promotion.

The auto maker also hosted a ride-and-drive event outside the Javits Center, the location of NY Comic Con.

Social media also plays a big role in Sonic marketing activity. Case in point: GM last month kicked off the Sonic Road Warriors Challenge around its partnership with Penn State University athletics. The promotion partners Sonic brand ambassadors with students, each of whom uses Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms to document their travel to games. The team with the most “likes” at the end of the football season will win a trip to the PSU Bowl Game.

GM also is running a sweeps dangling a Sonic on the Penn State Nittany Lions Facebook page.

Kevin Mayer, director of Chevrolet advertising and sales promotion, spearheads Sonic marketing activity.