Why Hyundai’s Dead Serious About Its SB Ads

Many marketers see the Super Bowl as a platform to compete for the best-remembered ad, a goal that usually leads to one-upsmanship in outrageous humor. But Joel Ewanick, vp of marketing for Hyundai, doesn’t see it that way. The Korean carmaker is running six ads around the Super Bowl, including two during the big game and none of them are what you’d call rib-ticklers. Instead, they are dead serious and quiet.

The return to the Super Bowl was a no-brainer for Hyundai, which introduced its Assurance plan — which promised that those who lost their jobs could return their car — in last year’s game. That program helped Hyundai post an 8 percent year-over-year volume increase in 2009, a horrible year for most automakers.

Ewanick, Brandweek’s Grand Marketer of the Year last year, spoke with us last week.

Brandweek: Auto’s a category not generally known for humorous advertising, yet in the Super Bowl, they often go for laughs. Why not Hyundai?
Joel Ewanick:
Well, we set the tone about three years ago using Jeff Bridges [for voiceovers]. It’s a very approachable, very aw-shucks presentation. It allows us to be a bit boastful, but it comes across OK because it doesn’t sound boastful. It sounds like we’re giving out information, and we don’t see a reason why we would change that tonality. We don’t need horse heads in our bed. [Ewanick was referencing Audi’s Super Bowl ad last year, which spoofed a famous scene in The Godfather.] We feel we have a very compelling story. We’ve had this circled on our calendar for 30 months. We knew this day was coming. When we launched the Genesis two years [ago] in the Super Bowl, we thought it really represented everything great about how we’re building cars today. It won Car of the Year, and we also talked about that in the Super Bowl. We didn’t want to do something that was funny. We wanted to do something that was engaging and high-energy and drove people to the Web. You might recall that we also launched the Assurance [program] in [last year’s] game, which was a very straightforward message. We check our ROI very closely for these kinds of expenditures. We spent a lot of money last year, and each was a foundational piece that allowed us to get to the Sonata.

How many people have taken you up on the Assurance offer?
Less than 100.

Why do you think that is?
The primary reason is people need a car. It’s their means to make money, to have a livelihood. When I was doing some research on this program, I remember finding some books on the Great Depression. I found a lot of pictures, and I’d show people and ask, “What do you see in these pictures of people?” You’d see people and their car. They may move; they may go somewhere else — but they’ve got to have their car; they’ve got to make a living. It’s very important to people. In California, in most places, it’s a huge issue. Public transportation isn’t what it should be. So it’s still a very big factor in the purchase decision, and it’s one of [the] pillars of our marketing for this year — just one them. We spent a lot of time this month and a lot of money talking about Assurance. I know that when we stopped advertising as much last September, our unaided awareness of it started to drop off. And [consumers] started giving credit — too much credit — to our competitors. We brought it back, and we’ve seen our unaided [awareness] go up again. Aided was always good, but unaided, it makes me nervous that people don’t think of us as the Assurance company.