We've Thought About It: Carless Ads Push Hyundai Upmarket

Goodby Silverstein Work a Bit Preachy But Good

By Published on .

A bit preachy.

There. That's out of the way. It's about the worst thing you can say about the first brand campaign for Hyundai from Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. Now we can spend some time focusing on what's good about these ads -- which is quite a bit.

For the next two weeks, Americans will witness Goodby's attempt to "reframe" the automaker -- to both widen Hyundai's appeal and take it upmarket. It's a well-thought-out and handsomely executed teaser that raises some interesting competitive, and even moral, issues. On TV and in print, stark visuals and even starker writing will ask consumers to re-evaluate their value equations.

The theme is "Think about it."

Because viewers are explicitly asked to confront their way of looking at cars -- and especially because there are no actual cars to look at -- the TV ads are reminiscent of the famous/infamous Infiniti "rocks and trees" campaign of two decades ago. Those invoked metaphysical language and imagery to define a new concept of luxury, which would have been a wonderful idea if the copy and delivery hadn't been so mannered and pretentious. And if Infiniti had been less tardy in showing the car.

Thus did a thoughtful concept quickly become a national laughingstock.

That won't happen this time. For one thing, it takes but a click onto ThinkAboutIt.com to see every model from every angle in all the detail you'd ever hope for. For another, this copy is more feisty than pretentious.

"When a company charges for roadside assistance," both a print and TV ad inquire, "aren't they really just helping themselves?"

"Shouldn't a car have more airbags than cupholders?"

"Are car companies committed to quality or to the phrase 'committed to quality?' "

"A five-year warranty says a lot about the car. A ten-year warranty says a lot about the car company."

Most of the spots feature these musings being typed onscreen atop ordinary landscapes and cityscapes, as shot from a passing car. The sweeping, letterboxed pans are an interesting effect -- for want of a better word: arty. In that way, while the pointed questions undercut unnamed competitors, the brand takes on a luxury hue.

Stylistically, these are ads for a pricey car.

That can't be an accident. Hyundai has gained U.S. market share on price and dependability, as guaranteed by its 10-year, 100,000-mile drivetrain warranty. Now it wants to cash in, which means shedding "cheap" without also sacrificing "value," and moving upmarket while conferring no status. That's where the tone gets a little self-righteous.

"Shouldn't you have a car that inflates your intelligence, not your ego?" poses one ad.

"The logo is there to tell you what the car is, not who you are," asserts another.

Not since Saturn (Goodby's last car account) has anyone really succeeded with the conspicuously inconspicuous consumption positioning, but it hasn't stopped others -- from VW to Subaru -- from trying. Alas, that strategy cuts against the grain of predominant consumer psychology: A car is the ultimate badge product, and "Check me out -- a Lexus!" is a very popular badge.

We have even graver doubts about a Sonata spot that will appear when the teasers have run their course. It frames the 100,000-mile warranty in terms of "commitment" -- this compared with people quick to replace an old nose with a new one, an old job with a new one, an old spouse with a new one. Preachy, judgmental, provocative -- choose your own word. The thing is, it preaches to/judges/provokes about two-thirds of America.

Think about it.
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