Fast Chat: Hyundai’s Shannon on Super Bowl Advertising

Why this challenger brand keeps coming back

Hyundai is a true believer in the Super Bowl, having been on the last five games. This year, the brand returns with two comical 30-second ads from Innocean USA that will air in the first and second quarters. Steve Shannon, vp of marketing for Hyundai Motor America, explains why the most watched program on television has become integral to the automaker's annual marketing plan.

Adweek: What does the game do for your brand?

Steve Shannon: The decision to purchase a Hyundai, for most people, starts out being a very rational choice. We have pretty compelling advantages in the kitchen table attributes: warranty, fuel economy, value, technology. And that's all great. We love that. We wouldn't give that up at all. But the fact is people [also] love their Hyundais. There's an emotional side, there's a fun side, a passionate side. And that's kind of what the Super Bowl platform is about.

Why else have you been on there for six straight years?

It's a platform where people really engage in the advertising. Certainly, the (viewership) numbers of 110 million plus. One of the [other] ways it works somewhat uniquely in the automotive space is [the Super Bowl drives] our single biggest numbers we see all year online—either traffic to or shopping traffic for Hyundais on Edmunds, KBB, We see a big spike.

How does the crowd of automakers in the game influence your creative approach?

You need to be more mindful of what the setting is, what the competition is. In the Academy Awards (where Hyundai is the exclusive automotive sponsor), we don't worry much about Target or Dove. Now, in the game, we don't try at all to suss out, what do we think Mercedes will do or what do you we think Kate [Upton, star of this year's Mercedes ad] will do. We do our thing, but it's a little more mindful of breaking out, taking advantage of that passion in the advertising and at the margin being upbeat and funny.

How do you feel about the use of celebrities in Super Bowl ads?

Hyundai, wanting to be different, would probably not go in that direction. The flip side of that has been we always try to find an interesting angle with music. …Generally speaking, you pay a premium for one of those—either for more interesting music or the celebrity. Our proclivity has been the music because we just think that's a little bit more natural or authentic way to engage with people.

With many viewers watching at noisy parties, do you try to be less verbal and more visual?

I think that's right. And that applies to all advertising, especially on the Super Bowl. Simpler is always better. … [Also], it's a continued challenge to be self-critical. The initial reaction is always, when we talk about research, "Oh, no, no. That can't be right. That can't be right." And [instead you need] the ability to really be, "Guys, we've been living with this for months. And it's only 60 seconds and people don't want to work that hard." One of the most under-appreciated attributes of good advertising is just being simple because it's your initial instinct to put more things in.

Jeff Bridges has done Hyundai's voiceovers for years. Why do you think he fits with the brand?

I just think [it's] the sound of his voice. It's warmer, a little friendlier. If you see the way we write copy, it tends to be—cerebral is probably too strong a word—but it's a little softer, quieter.