Five out of six dealers contacted by Advertising Age said the goal of the push isn't to move the metal immediately but to build a long-term image for its brand. Doug Fox, an Ann Arbor, Mich., retailer and member of Hyundai's national dealer council, called the month-old work "some of the most brilliant creative from an ad agency for autos."
Don Hicks, a Denver-area dealer, said it's laudable for Hyundai to try to accelerate its sales and the American public's image of the brand with thought-provoking ads. He said Hyundai's South Korean management feels the brand doesn't get the recognition it deserves despite top third-party accolades and seems to want to elevate the brand "at warp speed. It takes time. The risk I see is Hyundai isn't there."
The automaker reported last week that its September monthly sales were flat at 33,214 vehicles vs. 33,384 a year ago and flat for the nine-month period: 358,407 units vs. 359,259 sold in the same period in 2006.
The first phase of the campaign broke Aug 28. with 16 days of national TV spots from Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco. The 15-second spots did not show a Hyundai vehicle or name the brand, referring viewers to ThinkAboutIt.com, which linked to HyundaiUSA.com.
Hits to the site almost doubled during the early phase, said a Hyundai spokesman, but he said the automaker has no plans to measure the effort's impact until all ads have broken (around mid-month).
Four more commercials are on deck, said Jeff Goodby, co-chairman of the agency. Narrator Jeff Bridges delivers "thought bombs" about topics that will open consumers' eyes about Hyundai, Mr. Goodby added.
Dealer Dick Withnell in Salem, Ore., said the push breaks through the clutter. "It seems to be more institutional, more corporate to elevate the name Hyundai, but on the ground level for dealers, the campaign seems to be at 30,0000 feet."
Show of support
Bill Underriner in Billings, Montana, said it's too soon to say whether the ads are working. But he likes the ads so much he is using the theme for his dealership's ads. "I think it's a great campaign."
The sole dissenter among the six dealers contacted, who requested anonymity, called the blitz "a horrendous mistake" because the message is too subliminal and the ads aren't getting noticed. "The best way to get a brand well known is to sell the product," he said. "The trees and rocks campaign did more for Infiniti than this is doing for Hyundai," the dealer said of the infamous 1989 launch work for Nissan's luxury brand.
"Hyundai needs to do something different," said Scott Fink, a Newport Richey, Fla., retailer and also on Hyundai's dealer council. "This national campaign will hopefully create brand awareness and influence consideration."
Showroom traffic will be generated by ads from individual dealers and regional dealer ad associations, he said. The problem is Hyundai disbanded its regional dealer ad groups in 2006, translating to a drop of $300 million in co-op spending. Hyundai is now readying the dealer groups' return, and Mr. Fox predicted that could be in place by the end of the year. "Pulling all that money out of the market was a mistake," he said.