Kia Cuts Out the Comedy in Latest Campaigns

New CEO Steers Messages Toward Fuel Efficiency, Value, Quality

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DETROIT ( -- Kia Motors America has decided that trying to sell cars is no laughing matter.

"We don't want to spend a good chunk of our time in a 30-second spot trying to entertain people," said Tim Chaney, marketing director at the Irvine, Calif.-based importer. "We have a lot to communicate in terms of our products, and we don't want to obscure it with entertainment."

Moving on
The brand responsible for some of the most outrageous TV commercials in the automotive category has taken a more serious tone after the unexpected departure earlier this year of Ian Beavis. The automaker's VP-marketing ordered up some breakthrough creative at both the national and regional dealer level, including a sales spot that parodied the movie "Flashdance" and another that showed Kia cars hauling giant red stick pins on their roofs.

While Mr. Chaney admitted past work from DavidandGoliath, Los Angeles, got noticed, he said Kia "could have done a better job overcoming perceptions of the brand and do a better job promoting quality."

Last month, Kia started a series of spots, via its regional dealer ad groups, under the theme "More for your money" that spotlight products and features. The rational ads tout fuel efficiency and value, comparing Kias directly to more popular models from Toyota.

Mr. Chaney said the new approach has been "embraced all the way to the top to our president."

Time to stress quality
Byung Mo Ahn, who returned to Kia Motors America in early February in the new post of chairman-group CEO, didn't like the humor in Kia's ads under Mr. Beavis. Mr. Ahn prefers that ads show the vehicles as serious contenders with good quality in such strained economic times, executives close to the matter said.

Later this week, Kia starts the launch of its biggest and most powerful model, the 2009 Borrego SUV, with a 60-second in-cinema commercial June 27 that calls the vehicle a "new kind of luxury."

Kia unveiled the sleek-looking SUV, which starts at less than $27,000, at the Detroit auto show in January. Borrego will launch with a V-6 engine, but the brand's first eight-cylinder engine will be available early next year.

Todd Turner, president of consultant CarConcepts, predicted Kia will have a tough time launching Borrego, considering how sales of mid-size SUVs have been pummeled as gas prices rose. The luxury SUV segment hasn't taken as big a hit in sales as non-lux, he added.

David Angelo, chairman and chief creative officer of DavidandGoliath, said the brand's new voice represents "a smarter, more mature Kia." Kia wanted to shake up the category by redefining the cliches of traditional SUV ads and get Americans to think of the brand in a new way, Mr. Angelo said.

Mr. Chaney maintained Kia isn't trying to play in the luxury segment. He called Borrego a "credible product" that can be compared to luxury SUVs with similar features. The target buyer will have an annual household income of $80,000 or more, he said. That's the highest Kia has aimed, as its current lineup targets those with incomes of between $50,000 to $60,000.

Borrego in the spotlight
Spending behind the Borrego launch is the most Kia has put toward a rollout, said Mr. Chaney, declining to give a specific dollar amount for the push. The automaker is expected to back the SUV with a media buy of roughly $60 million, which includes a heavy TV presence, direct mail, magazines, search and online ads.

Kia said its U.S. sales through May were up 1% to 129,327 units. Mr. Chaney noted Kia has had back-to-back record sales months in April and May, in one of the industry's worst years in a decade. Last year, Kia said it enjoyed its 14th straight year of record sales with 305,473 units sold.

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