Hyundai brand work ahead of its time; dealer spots winners

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How in the world the Richards Group won the Hyundai account from Bates Worldwide, New York, is one of the mysteries of Korean corporate politics. Hyundai was the one big brand, since Miller Genuine Draft in the late `80s, that the Incredible Shrinking Agency handled extremely well. After many false starts, Bates' ultimately straightforward work ignited the brand in the U.S.

But win Richards did, and "win" Richards says. That's the slogan for the new Hyundai campaign.

"When you choose a different definition of wealth," the voice-over says in the introductory spot. "When you ignore trends but embrace change... When you know what really matters. You win."

The premise isn't new. Volkswagen soared with it in the `60s. More recently, in asserting that a car's intrinsic qualities should trump phony notions of prestige, Infiniti and Subaru took painful bellyflops. In Hyundai's case, the five subsequent model-centric vignettes basically just drop the subject.

What they do instead is show off the cars' looks and various features while obliquely alluding to the overall value proposition. The best of them shows a young Tiburon sports coupe driver as he trails two dogs that scamper, yapping, through a neighborhood. The car looks fabulous, accelerates forcefully and corners brilliantly until it roadblocks the dogs. The smaller pooch hops in through the window, whereupon the driver admonishes it: "I told you she had a boyfriend." Cute.

But is it enough? It's charming. They're all charming, but for another year or two Hyundai may require-and deserve-more.

We have special insight here. As a point of full disclosure, the AdReview family ourselves own a 2000 Hyundai Sonata, because it was basically free. Thousands less than a Camry, zero interest for four years, 6-cylinder, fully loaded, perfectly acceptable performance. Sure, little things break from time to time, but thanks to Hyundai's pioneering ... what is it, 1,000-year/100-million-miles warranty? ... the factory pays for everything.

And if we had waited one more year, the car wouldn't even have been ugly. The whole line is now quite stylish.

Indeed, as Richards has explicitly observed, a Hyundai purchase is a classic win-win proposition: a car worthy on its merits, made doubly attractive by its price and warranty. That message may soon be inseparable from the brand name, but not yet. That's why the better new Hyundai work from Richards isn't the manufacturer's campaign but dealer spots, which are pointed and delightful.

The best shows a young woman in a showroom approaching a salesman.

"How much is a Hyundai Elantra with an automatic transmission and air conditioning?" she asks.

"Under thirteen-five," the salesman says.

"Shut up!" she says, not in anger but in surprise, smacking him in the chest. "What if I want power locks and mirrors?"

"Same price."

"Shut UP!" she says, and smacks him again. "And keyless entry?"

"Same price," he says, putting his hand out pre-emptively. "Please don't hit me."

She's wonderful. He's wonderful. The offer's wonderful. The car's wonderful. The brand work is nice, but, as someone once said, just slightly ahead of its time. The retail stuff will win, win, win.