Saturday, April 1, 1995 Section L


TV Ad’s Asphalt Ballet Just One Trick In GM’s Hot Sunfire Campaign

By Jody Ness


A beautiful gleaming piece of liquid metal married to advanced automotive engineering coolly manipulates the curves of a ribbon of asphalt wedged between mountains on one side and water on the other.

Can you imagine the car in the television ad?

You’re not sure? It sounds like…But then again it could be…Or maybe…It might remind you of any one of a dozens different car commercials. Sometimes they all seem alike.

Now think about dancing chili peppers. Eggs frying on the hood of the car. A guy "shifting gears" with a kitchen tap. Six precision drivers wheeling into parking spots.

Quick, name the car. Hint: the design team arrives early for work every morning.

If you said Sunfire, then the marketing folks at General Motors at Canada’s Pontiac division will be thrilled. And the advertising team at McClaren:Lintas gets to keep their job.

As most of us know, advertising is about creating images—images that will make us customers think of the product the advertiser wants us to buy.

But what if the images are all garbled in out minds and one product starts to sound like all the rest?


So the best advertisers find new and unique ways to stand out from the crowd. When GM Canada wanted to launch its new compact Sunfire, it thought to play up the word "fire." A hot new car … hot … chili peppers … Get it?

Next, to further reinforce the name, the car was portrayed as being so hot that eggs could fry on the hood. Now that’s hot.

Since we consumers get bored when commercials are repeated too often or for too long, the next change was to communicate that Sunfire inherited the same characteristics as other cars in the Pontiac family, such as Grand Am and Bonneville. In Pontiacs words, they are built for drivers, (which begs the question, who are the other cars built for?)

Anyway, the next part of the campaign includes two ads that, in my humble opinion, are so good that I just can’t wait to see them again. Call me crazy, but when that poor frustrated guy gazes longingly out the window and has to settle for shifting the gears of his kitchen tap, my heart goes out to him. I rather be driving than doing dishes too!

Last, but by no means least, I want to know how those six cars all managed to get into their parking spots right on cue. While it may not represent one of life’s great mysteries, it is interesting.

When the ad agency requested drivers who could be "like the snowbirds, only on the ground," they got the best professionals available.

The drivers, all experienced in racing and precision driving, spent an entire day rehearsing to get it just right.

Unfortunately, just when they got it, the sun went down, and for a moment it looked like there would be no ad. But perfectionist and professionals to the end, the team agreed to return the next day (at no cost to client).

Finally, the trio from the famous racing family, the Unser’s—Bobby Jr., Robby, and Johnny—and fellow racers Robin and Paul Dallenbach, and Georgia Durante delivered the take we now see on TV.

In fact, it was really accomplished in two takes—the red cars and the black ones separately. Drivers were in radio contact with each other to synchronize the stunt. And, in case you were wondering, no cars or people ever clashed on the Atlanta, GA, parking lot in the course of filming.

A few conclusions.

¨ Even the best need to practice.

¨ Don’t even think of trying this yourself.

¨ Whether you drive or not, the automotive category offers some of the best advertising around. Wait till you see the new Nissan 200 SX ads!

Jody Ness is a Toronto freelance writer.