Hyundai Fills Oscar Ad Void Left by GM

After Surprise Turn in Super Bowl, Automaker Makes Buy for Next Year's Academy Awards

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LOS ANGELES ( -- Hyundai Motor America has purchased all of the spots abandoned by embattled General Motors Corp. in next February's Academy Awards telecast, Advertising Age has learned.
It is unclear which models Hyundai's six-unit Oscar buy will feature, although its upmarket sedan, Genesis, is a good bet.
It is unclear which models Hyundai's six-unit Oscar buy will feature, although its upmarket sedan, Genesis, is a good bet.

Scorched by explosive gas prices and financial woes, GM, the country's largest automaker, in August said it would be skipping both this year's Emmys (which last month had its second-lowest Nielsen ratings on record) and next year's Oscars (which in February notched its lowest Nielsen ratings on record). In September, GM also announced it would drop out of next year's Super Bowl as well.

Super Bowl appearance
But Seoul is quickly filling the glamour gap created by the departure of Detroit steel from red carpets and other big-ticket events. Hyundai purchased two 30-second spots during the third and fourth quarters of February's Super Bowl XLII, its first appearance in the telecast since 1989. The timing was propitious: The New York Giants' surprise triumph over the New England Patriots made the broadcast the most-watched Super Bowl ever, with 97.5 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research.

Unclear is which models Hyundai's six-unit Oscar buy will feature, although its upmarket sedan, Genesis, is a good bet. A Hyundai spokesman would only confirm to Ad Age that it would be sponsoring the Oscars, but said that more information was not available at deadline. Walt Disney's ABC, which airs the Oscars, referred calls to Hyundai.

As a sponsor of the Oscars for the past 11 years, GM spent some $13.5 million in ads for the event last year, or 10% of ABC's estimated $130 million annual award haul, according to Academy Award insiders. GM had also paid a premium to be the exclusive automotive sponsor of the Academy Awards telecast; it's unclear if Hyundai has also paid for such exclusivity.

But what is clear is that U.S. car manufacturers -- the largest category of advertisers -- curtailed their ad spending by 18% in the second quarter of 2008 compared with 2007, according to TNS.

It's not hard to see why GM is retrenching: It lost a stunning $15.5 billion in the second quarter, partly due to consumer tastes pivoting away from gas-thirsty trucks and SUVs. Luxury car sales have been dinged, too, and Cadillac, GM's prominently featured Oscar sponsor of last year, has been hard hit: Overall, Cadillac's sales year-to-date are down 16.4%; by comparison, Hyundai's sales are down overall by only 5.8%, according to Automotive News.

A good year for Hyundai's cars
Exclude SUVs and trucks and count only cars sold, things look even better for Hyundai and worse for Cadillac: Hyundai is up 8.8% for the year in cars sold, while Cadillac is down 6% for the year. In short, while Cadillac controlled 1.3% of the car market last year, this year it controls 1.2%. Hyundai, meanwhile, has gone from owning 2.9% of the U.S. car market last year to 3.1% this year, according to Automotive News data.

And that's in spite of TNS data showing that Hyundai slashed its ad spending compared with the same time last year, from nearly $107 million spent during January to June 2007 to $82 million during the eight months this year.

The higher profile being taken by Hyundai could in part be due to a shake-up of its advertising strategy: Last month, Hyundai indicated it would part with Omnicom Group's Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, and hand over creative advertising to Irvine, Calif.-based World Marketing Group sometime next year. A joint venture between Hyundai and Kia, WMG in May hired Jim Sanfilippo as its chief operating officer. Mr. Sanfilippo was most recently chief marketing officer of WPP Group's Team Detroit, serving Ford Motor Co.'s Ford, Lincoln and Mercury brands in the U.S., and had started out as an exec at Hyundai's first agency of record, Backer Spielvogel Bates.

It remains unclear if Mr. Sanfilippo helped engineer the Oscar buy: A spokesman for WMG referred questions to a publicist for Hyundai Motor America, Christopher Hosford, who was traveling and not available for comment beyond confirming via e-mail that Hyundai would sponsor Oscar.

Ratings winner predicted
Regardless, Hyundai's timing may be just right: Despite a rotten economy and lowest-ever ratings last year, Oscar's ratings next year may well be resurrected by a man who won't be able to attend the event at all: Heath Ledger. Warner Bros. will re-release "The Dark Knight" -- already the second-highest-grossing film ever -- in January, a move needed to qualify it for both a Best Picture nomination and, insiders say, a likely Best Supporting Actor nomination for Mr. Ledger, who passed away last spring from an accidental prescription drug overdose.

Nominations in either category could drive up Oscar ratings substantially, said Geri Wang, senior VP-primetime sales at ABC. And in any event, the Academy's planned retrospective montage honoring the late Mr. Ledger will also likely be a draw, even if he or the film doesn't get any nominations.
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