Hyundai Ads Can Take Us To Water But Can They Make Us Think?

I’ve been in the room when an ad agency says to a car company client, “Let’s not show the car.” The sales oriented executives in the room react as if they’d just been told that there is no beer or booze being served at the football game, just some sort of rice-based drink that tastes like Kindergarteners made it in class.

There was the Infiniti’s infamous “rocks and trees” zen ads that are the benchmark of such car advertising. And a few years ago Goodby, Silverstein & Partners made an interesting ad for Saturn in which people had taken the place of the cars on the road.

In Goodby’s first big brand effort for Hyundai since winning the account last April (the agency launched a retail summer sales campaign, which carried the theme, “Duh.”), the strategy is to move Hyundai up the intelligence scale of buyers who, the research shows, plainly want to feel smart after buying their vehicle. In a series of ads running for two weeks, the ads, which broke a few days ago, ask questions, against contextual visuals, like, “When a car company charges for roadside assistance…aren’t they really just helping themselves?” There is no brand in evidence. Just an invitation to go to There, I find the Hyundai logo and a video that looks like it was shot from a car or train past farm and ranch fields. The question on the screen, “If you had the technology to save 10,000 lives? Would you hesitate to use it? Think About It. ” Another message, “The logo is there to tell you what the car is. Not who you are. Think About It.” “Shouldn’t a car have more airbags than cupholders?” The visuals take us to an aerial shot of a big city, to the beach where a lady is running, etc.

There is no voiceover. Just New Age music. There are links to the Hyundai product website, which has been recast very well.

The idea here is to try and get Hyundai out of the well of “cheap car that I don’t want to be seen in if I make more than $50,000 a year.” Last Spring when Hyundai was conducting a review for a new ad agency, one piece of research was common among the agencies competing: they all found that too large a slice of the car-buying public are unbelieving that Hyundai’s quality rankings by J.D. Power and Associates are competitive with Toyota’s. In two years, Hyundai has surpassed Toyota. Tell them that, and even show them the press release from JDPA, and they won’t believe it.

This teaser campaign, which will lead to product ads themed “Think About It,” is meant to appeal to a wider swath of carbuyers who are educated and Net savvy. Indeed, a very high percentage of Hyundai buyers do most of their comparison shopping on the Net and are extremely well educated. That is one of the findings that gives Hyundai’s marketing team, and its new agency, hope that it can pump up sales. In other words, a healthy slice of people deciding to buy Hyundais are doing so after a lot of online comparison shopping and information sifting. For them, Hyundai is the thoughtful, smart choice. There just aren’t enough of those geeks buying Hyundais…yet.

Despite new vehicles arriving in dealerships, like redesigned versions of Sonata, Santa Fe, as well as additions to the lineup like the Azera sedan, Veracruz crossover (pictured above)and Entourage minivan, sales growth is stagnating for the once high-flying Hyundai.

I wasn’t crazy about the Goodby summer sales “Duh” campaign. It seemed a reach to me. It even irritated me a bit. But this is a promising start to a brand repositioning. When I worked at an ad agency handling the Mercedes-Benz account, I once said in a meeting that I recall that the best thing a buyer can feel, and wants to feel, after going through the purchase cycle is “smart.” Even with Mercedes, they want to feel like they made a smart choice, got a smart price and didn’t pay more than they needed to. They want their friends to think they were smart for choosing a Mercedes. I was told that I was off base by people making a lot more money than I was at the time. Oh well.

Hyundai and Goodby have a ways to go to make this campaign a winner, compelling and relevant. But this is a very good start. The tone and tenor of the teaser spots are just right, I think, to draw in some of the same buyers they have now. That brings me to another often overlooked tenet of marketing. Don’t go after people who are checking you out and passing on you. Go after people who are a lot like the people who are buying you, but haven’t noticed you yet.

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