Editorial - Hyundai/Bates: ironic breakup

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Hyundai's parting with Bates USA after 15 years is ironic. The auto marketer stuck by Bates when Hyundai sales struggled and fired it as sales boomed. Ironic, yes, but not unusual. Factors wholly separate from performance often drive agency reviews-and the likelihood is the Hyundai brand will continue to prosper with or without Bates.

That's not intended to shortchange the work the Cordiant Communications Group agency has done for Hyundai. Bates' creative, now under review, and its media buying, now shifted to Aegis Group's Carat, were instrumental in building a brand now known for good value. Hyundai's U.S. unit sales climbed 42% last year, during a recession and without 0% financing deals.

A Hyundai spokesman in South Korea said that the media review was motivated by cost considerations. "We are only doing in back office areas what many of the top big auto groups have already done ... streamlining various shared functions to save money." Hyundai's U.S. VP-marketing, David Weber, said the creative review "is not being done because of dissatisfaction with Bates' creative."

Corporate politics is blamed by some for the re-evaluation (a report denied by Hyundai). Even if politics is the cause, that's not uncommon; many a good agency has lost an account due to internal politics. The whole story may never be known. Perhaps Bates erred in focusing most of its attention on the U.S. business and its managers and not on those at headquarters in South Korea. Perhaps there are other factors yet unrevealed.

What's certain, however, is that the Hyundai brand will go to its new agencies with considerable momentum behind it. The review may not make sense, but Hyundai's cars still do.

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