Why Hyundai Didn't Forfeit Spots

Less-Than-Impressive Creative Kept Carmaker Waffling Before Bowl

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Hyundai Motor North America ended its Hamlet-like indecision last week, saying it will use the ad time it has bought for the Super Bowl.
Joel Ewanick, VP-marketing at Hyundai
Joel Ewanick, VP-marketing at Hyundai

Early last week, Hyundai said the weakening economy was giving it the jitters about using millions of dollars to buy Super Bowl ads and it was unsure if it would keep the two 30-second spots in the second half of the Feb. 3 game that it had purchased from Fox. But the automaker first began to show doubts in early December, when it clashed with its national agency over creative direction.

Now Hyundai will be in the Big Game after all, Joel Ewanick, VP-marketing, told Advertising Age. The change of heart followed at least one crucial, contentious meeting before the holidays in which Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, managed to repair the relationship.

Mr. Ewanick said he was "irritated" at the agency at that meeting -- but it was due to the spots that continued Hyundai's "Duh" campaign for its winter sales event, which was not as successful as the "Duh" summer sales event. The agency, Mr. Ewanick said, "was in trouble like my kids are in trouble, but that doesn't mean I get rid of my kids."

'Change in focus'
Hyundai will be in the Super Bowl, but there will be a "change in focus" from Goodby's 8-week-old corporate-branding blitz themed "Think About It" directing viewers to thinkaboutit.com, Mr. Ewanick said. While he wouldn't admit the new work would mark a change in strategy, he called the coming spots "more aggressive." The new work is part the "Think About It," campaign, "but the message has changed" he said.

The cerebral "Think About It" blitz aims to raise Hyundai's image, as it readies the launch of its priciest model ever, the Genesis sedan. The campaign, which arrived in late August, isn't generating showroom traffic, which has upset some dealers. The sole dissenter among six dealers contacted by Advertising Age last fall 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.

A Hyundai spokesman dismissed the discontent, saying "some dealers always complain about advertising."

Hyundai announced its best-ever December sales of 46,487 units and record annual U.S. level of 467,009 vehicles for 2007 -- the ninth year in a row of rising sales. In 2006, Hyundai sold 455,520 vehicles in the U.S. But last fall, the automaker scaled back its earlier annual sales prediction of 555,000 vehicles to 510,000 units.

"We feel good closing the year with increased sales and market share over year-ago figures," said Dave Zuchowski, VP-national sales at Hyundai. "Still, we enter the year with cautious optimism, as the overall industry likely will retract to the 15.7 million range. But we are confident that the strongest product lineup in our history will bring further sales records in 2008."

Buyer's remorse
When most marketers get into the Super Bowl, it's a quick drive. They snap up a couple of 30-second berths and start promoting during the countdown to the big event. But Hyundai has moved toward game day in stutter-stop fashion, which is unusual. The automaker purchased Super Bowl time around October.

"With something like a Super Bowl ad, buyer's remorse is not something that you often run across," said David Carter, executive director of the Sports Business Institute at the University of Southern California.

It's not clear that Hyundai would have been able to get out of its commitment with Fox. "If the network can sell it, you're free, and if they can't, you have to figure out a way to pay for it," he said. Some media agencies that have made such purchases on behalf of advertisers may survey other clients to see if the time can be shifted elsewhere easily.

Hyundai recently announced it was changing media buyers, moving to Interpublic Group of Cos.' Initiative from Aegis Group's Carat. Carat made the Super Bowl buy, according to people familiar with the situation.
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