Hyundai Mixes Music and Humor in Super Bowl Ads

Automaker appears in sixth straight big game

Music plays a starring role in Innocean USA's Super Bowl Sunday push for Hyundai this year.

A pre-game ad, "Epic Play Date," features an original song and cameo from The Flaming Lips, and "Team," an ad slotted to air during the first quarter, uses Quiet Riot's "Bang Your Head" to set the scene for a kids' football showdown. Innocean uses whimsical original music in the other in-game ad, "Stuck," which will air in the second quarter.

All told, Hyundai will run five ads on the big day—a 60-second and two 30-second spots in the half-hour leading up to kickoff and two 30-second spots during the game. The other pre-game ads, "Don't Tell" and "Excited," have already broken, though "Excited" features a new, over-the-top voiceover from sports announcer Gus Johnson.

Live event advertising plays a significant role in Hyundai's annual marketing efforts. The brand has appeared on the Super Bowl each year since 2008 and on the Oscars annually since 2009.

The high-profile (and expensive) media buys reflect a strategy of a relative upstart aggressively taking on more established players. Other automakers that have bought time on this year's Super Bowl—at an average cost of $3.8 million for 30 seconds—include Audi, Chrysler, Kia, Toyota, Ford, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz.

"As a challenger brand, empirically we have the products, the technology and the quality to compete with the big guys and being on this big stage is just kind of one more aspect to that," said Steve Shannon, vp of marketing at Hyundia Motor America. "The term we use is 'big voices and big places.' And that alludes to [the need to] behave bigger."

Shannon also sees the Super Bowl as an prime opportunity to, of course, build a brand and drive traffic to Hyundai's website, but also just have some fun.

"Team," for example, depicts a boy who, with his mom's help, comically rounds up a team of tough friends to counter a group of young ruffians who challenged him to a game of football at a park. Among the friends that mom picks up—in her Santa Fe, to the opening power chords of "Bang Your Head"—is a boy who welds steel in a factory and another who wrestles a bear in a pen.

Similarly, "Stuck" absurdly illustrates a series of gross and threatening obstacles that a couple passes in their Sonata Turbo. Among them are a fat motorcyclist whose underwear is partially exposed and a fireworks truck that drags a sparking metal chain. The latter foreshadows the ad's explosive ending.

When asked about the balance between selling and branding on the Super Bowl, Shannon said that the "branding part is critical and part of the reason for that is simply that in the car business the purchase cycle is five or six years. It isn't about a [packaged-goods brand] where we run it and people go to the grocery store the next day.

"So, it has to be about the brand and making the brand more likeable and appealing," Shannon added. "But the different approach we take is you still have to talk about a customer benefit. I won't mention names but there were some spots last year in the car space that had some things going for them but you would challenge a hundred people to say, 'Did you learn anything about the car?' "

That said, Shannon acknowledged that a litany of product attributes won't fly in the party atmosphere that most Super Bowl viewers find themselves in. Still, he stressed, "We do have to deliver one high-level benefit. We want you to fall in love with the brand and, by the way, that Sonata Turbo is really fast. Or, with that Sante Fe: 'Gee, I didn't know they had a seven-passenger [model] where you can pile all the kids in and go on a great adventure.' "

In other words, have a laugh and a bit of a brand pitch, too.