Q&A: Kia’s Beavis

LOS ANGELES Ian Beavis, vp, marketing at Kia Motors America, sat down with Adweek West Coast editor Gregory Solman to discuss the company’s parody of dating sites (kiamatch.com) as well as trends in the automotive industry.

How’s the Internet component of the new campaign going [parody of dating sites like eHarmony.com]?
Kia.com has been up [in visitors] every month and the new kiamatch.com has been very successful, getting 2 million unique visitors in its first weeks. More important, the Web ideas have been more consistent with our advertising, not just because there is more online work on the site; many things are contributing to it. It’s really become an integrated program. J.D. Power & Associates named it the No. 1 rated automotive Web site for three out of the last five years.

You’re still using a specialty shop for that, rather than your lead shop, davidandgoliath?
Yes, it’s coming out of Animated Design in Thousand Oaks, but davidandgoliath do work with them very closely and have their own specialty people—look at the Hispanic offshoot they just launched.

Would you characterize that as part of the trend of the general-market agency having part of its account chipped away by a digital specialty shop?
No, I wouldn’t. The relationship with Animated Design pre-exists my coming here, but it is through us rather than davidandgoliath. I don’t see it affecting our relationship with davidandgoliath. Besides, they’re not just sitting there, with a fortress mentality. That’s what gets agencies in trouble.

For the past three years, Nielsen Monitor-Plus is tracking Kia spending as going from $280 million in 2004, to $250 million in 2005, to $212 million last year. How long can you keep increasing sales while reducing ad spending?
While I can’t confirm those figures, I can say the measured spending that you are seeing is trending down. It is a function of the diversification of our media mix. But it is not lower total spending. We’re doing a lot stuff that you are not able to measure—ride-and-drive events, grass-roots events, sponsorships of local activities. It’s about building community, and because of our position in the market, it is important for us to connect with consumers. We know from the results of events we run that there is no substitute for people touching the product. A part of our strategy to sell a small amount of our cars to rental fleets is so people can experience them. And the rental companies like our cars because they get good ratings from their customers.

Will we be seeing a lot of events this summer?
Yes. More of our spending trend, more local activity, more sponsorships, more event marketing. They will be under our overarching strategy that then responds to market opportunities, not a “one size fits all” mentality. So even though there’s a Kia feel to the events, different vehicles will be keyed to different communities

We hear a lot about shopping for automobiles on the Web. What are the current stats on that?
Over 80 percent of new car buyers now use the Web prior to purchase. We’ve determined that the trick is to get these shoppers to the manufacturer’s site as early as possible. That increases the odds as much as possible. You can only do so much on television, which is why we’ve placed so much emphasis on the Web as part of our integration efforts. It changes the nature of the conversation. The prospective buyers are much better informed by the time they go to the dealer. And a well-informed prospect is, for Kia, a better prospect, a happier customer.

So on the Web you do a light compatibility survey, “find my vehicular soul mate”?
The setup there is a send-up of dating sites, like e-harmony.com, etcetera. The evolution in the thinking is very consciously integrated media, like for Rondo. The commercials have the look and feel that we’re not taking ourselves too seriously and yet that’s exactly how we’re making people visit the Web site. This is a good way of combining tier one and tier two advertising.

So the comedic push, the tone of the ads, leads to Web searching?
Being approachable is extremely important to our philosophy. All the automakers are vying to be heard, but we don’t have to be so straightforward with information [in the spots]. You will see specific product points, for example, safety as a surrogate for quality. But we try to be conversational in tone. We do focus on that, and a cinematic quality.

What’s the summer push going to look like?
We’re building brand power. Spectra and Sportage are the heavy lifters; Sorrento and Optima come after. We’ll be diversifying the media mix, but there will be a reasonable amount of TV.

Where do you see a new emphasis?
Search is working very well. But we are now doing it with behavioral targeting, which means we’re watching consumers’ behavior on the Web and interrupting at just the right time.

Do you see Kia TV going away or drastically diminishing?
TV will still be the automotive medium, because the dealer advertising will skew the measurement. The majority of spending will be on TV, but not by the percentages in the past. I predict that it will drop to about half of our expenditure.

How will that impact agency compensation?
Remember when we’re talking about media agency compensation, we have to consider TV on the Web. It’s coming like a runaway train. But that’s still a complex media environment. It is still very difficult to buy media on the Web. There’s actually an increase in labor on the Web, so right now the compensation model is almost in reverse. I don’t see that lasting for long.