Hyundai Decides to Keep Its Ads in Super Bowl

Backtracks From Earlier Talk and Denies Creative Was Behind Its Waffling

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NEW YORK ( -- In what seems a most unlikely ploy to drum up pre-Super Bowl buzz, Hyundai Motor North America today ended its Hamlet-like indecision and said it is committed to keeping the ad time that it has bought for the Super Bowl.

Earlier this 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 a spokesman today said the carmaker would air ads in the game after all.

Dithering about ad buy
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 as the weeks count down to the big event. But Hyundai has moved toward Game Day in stutter-stop fashion. The automaker, which purchased Super Bowl time around October, has been dithering both internally and in public about whether it should have made the buy in the first place.

"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.

Getting in the Super Bowl isn't for everyone. Super Bowl spots typically go for some of the highest prices for 30-second ads on network TV; Fox, which is broadcasting the game this year, has sought as much as $2.7 million to $3 million for a 30-second. (For a complete list of who's in the game, see Ad Age's Super Bowl 2008.)

Even though it publicly wavered over its Big Game purchase, however, Hyundai was soothing furrowed brows at Fox, according to people familiar with the situation. The carmaker even recently submitted storyboards to the network, according to one person familiar with the matter. This person said Hyundai told Fox yesterday that it was committed to its presence in the Super Bowl.

Nervousness over the creative
The waffling was caused by nervousness over the creative execution of Hyundai's Super Bowl ads, according to people familiar with the matter. Hyundai executives weren't sure they had something really interesting to put forth -- which marketing experts suggest could set an advertiser up for a brutal fall.

But Joel Ewanick, VP-marketing at Hyundai, denied creative issues were behind the second thoughts about the Big Game. "There were some thoughts about the timing of certain launch vehicles and some thoughts about the industry," he told Advertising Age. He admitted being "very disappointed" and expressing his "displeasure" over the "Duh" campaign created by its agency, Omnicom Group's Goodby Silverstein & Parnters, for its winter sales event at a pre-holiday meeting with the agency.

"The creative was not as on target as we all would have liked." But he said Goodby has rectified the matter by proposing four of five different ideas.

Marketers often use Super Bowl ads for "to talk about a new product, a new brand, a significant product change, a complete change in image," said Richard Luker, chief strategy officer at Publicis Groupe's Relay Worldwide, which has a specialty in sports marketing. There's a strong likelihood "that someone is going to remember one of your commercials for a year is considerably better if it's a Super Bowl ad than all other ads combined," he said. But buying time and having nothing exciting to do with it could hurt a marketer's image and bring it criticism from shareholders and other internal parties, he said.

A place to show off
The Super Bowl is typically a place where "you're showing off a new piece of creative. If you haven't thought of that by this point, it's going to be hard to pull that off," said Jeff Gagne, VP-account director at Havas' MPG, where he oversees sports buying.

It's also 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 an advertiser 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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