of readers selected
the carmarker as the top marketer in 2009 in a vote on
With that bold stroke, Hyundai -- yes, Hyundai -- an automaker not
historically known for fearless marketing, began in earnest a
frontal assault on a recession that was not dampening consumer
enthusiasm but drowning it. But while its Assurance Program
received heavy support, it wasn't the sole route of advance.
Hyundai also took an upmarket route, with its very successful
efforts to push the Genesis, its entry into the premium-car market
that was also pushed during the Super Bowl as well as during the
game's female-skewing equivalent, the Academy Awards, where the
carmaker bought an eye-popping nine spots.
Engaging with both the broken dreams and the intact ones through
high-profile ad buys that garnered plenty of positive press was in
sharp contrast to the tail-between-the-legs mode of Hyundai's
rivals, many of whom had slashed budgets and retreated into
retail-focused advertising. An example of the opportunism: Those
nine Oscar spots -- purchased when GM, then on the verge of
bankruptcy, bailed out of the show. For Hyundai, the overall
results were clear: Sales and market share were up, and its brand
Hyundai's market share jumped to 4.3% in the first ten months of
2009 from 3.1% in the same year-ago period. In September, while the
industry overall suffered a 22% sales drop in a post-Cash for
Clunkers hangover, Hyundai managed to increase its new-vehicle
tally by 27% to 31,511 units.
Scott Fink, chairman of Hyundai's national dealer council, said
he has more showroom traffic today than two years ago. And while
his New Port Ritchie, Fla., dealership used to get mostly Detroit
model trade-ins, he's now seeing mostly Japanese nameplates. Mr.
Fink said he's getting "a lot of Acuras" traded in, along with BMWs
and Mercedes Benz cars, for the new Genesis. "We're really eroding
Before the recession, "these same people [that] never would have
been caught dead in a Hyundai" might have worried about what their
neighbors would think, said Mr. Fink. "Now people are very
comfortable because the brand has been elevated. We used to be a
price player, but now we're a mainstream player."
Searching for stability
A lot has been done to change a very ingrained image of Hyundai in
a very short time. Hyundai entered the U.S. market in 1986 with
small, affordable, entry-level models that were often the butt of
jokes by late-night TV hosts. After early success with these cars,
Hyundai hit a speed bump with quality. The automaker started
building momentum in late 1998 after introducing the industry's
first 100,000-mile warranty, repricing its lineup closer to
transaction prices and slashing build combinations. In the middle
part of this decade, Hyundai management ranks had a revolving door,
and there was a great deal of instability at the company. Ex-Chief
Operating Officer Steve Wilhite disbanded all regional dealer ad
groups shortly after he signed on in 2006. That angered many
dealers and slowed momentum, as the move eliminated some $300
million in regional ad spending for uniform messages, though most
groups have re-formed now.
In early 2007, things began to stabilize when Joel Ewanick,
Hyundai's VP-marketing, arrived from Richards Group, then Hyundai's
creative and media agency, where he had been director-brand
planning. In Chris Perry, the director-marketing communications who
had been at Hyundai since 2000, Mr. Ewanick found an ally who
thought along the same lines he did.
Mr. Ewanick said the two men "share the same mindset" when it
comes to marketing, so they don't need to be at all the same
meetings. That's why Mr. Perry has autonomy in many cases to make
decisions for fast-track online ad deals, and "he doesn't have to
wait for me," Mr. Ewanick said.
One major move came quickly. In April of that year, Mr. Ewanick
ditched his old shop and hired Omnicom Group's Goodby,
Silverstein & Partners to handle advertising duties after a
One of the team's most important challenges was helping Hyundai
to get into the driveways of more affluent drivers, something auto
pundits were skeptical of. The then-new Genesis sedan started in
the $30,000 range and was the automaker's most ambitious and
priciest product ever. (It was the two-door coupe version that
Hyundai launched during the Super Bowl this year.)
Nevertheless, Hyundai Motor America was in a funk at the end of
2008. With the U.S. auto industry in a tailspin due to the economy,
the credit crunch and plummeting consumer confidence, the
marketer's fourth-quarter sales dropped by 41% -- more than the
total industry's 34.7%. And the company's 2008 vehicle sales slid
14% from the prior year's tally of 467,009 units -- the highest
since the American arm of the South Korean carmaker started selling
here in 1986. The Genesis launch, too, wasn't exactly a huge hit,
as early sales targets were missed and dealers became disenchanted
with Goodby's "Think About It" campaign. By fall, there were
reports that the Hyundai-Goodby relationship was about to fall
The genesis of Assurance
This year, however, was a different story. The automaker announced
in the first week of January it was launching the Hyundai Assurance
program to let buyers or lessees return their new vehicles for up
to a year if they lost their jobs. The program was launched with
Goodby's high-profile commercial in the Super Bowl and another
in-game spot dubbed "Bosses" that touted the Genesis win as North
American car of the year at the Detroit Auto Show. Hyundai scooped
up sponsorship of the pre-game show, and a trio of 30-second
"This is a recession of fear," Mr. Ewanick told Advertising Age
back in February. "We realized that the elephant in the room was
the fear of losing your job. I feel the same way. We all do. The
idea of giving people the option to give the car back if they were
struggling . . . seemed a great way to make customers comfortable
and increase our market share in an economy like this."
In a recent interview, Mr. Ewanick said the Assurance program
came together in 37 days from concept to ads on the air. A
relatively lean, flat organization has been one of the automaker's
core strengths, he said. "One of the things that have served us
well is our ability to adapt quickly to the changing economy and
Hyundai's U.S. sales over the years
Nielsen's online post-game survey found 43% of participants said
Hyundai's Super Bowl ads improved their opinion of the brand.
Rebecca Lindland, research director of consultant IHS Global
Insight's automotive group, said the Assurance plan "made people
feel Hyundai cared about their situation -- that they were
sympathetic, and there's a lot of human emotion sort of selling
there." She said Hyundai is "certainly outpacing the market this
year, gaining significant share."
Americans were apparently so wowed by the ads and press exposure
of the Assurance program that consideration for new Hyundai
vehicles jumped to 59% in the first two months of the year, CNW
Marketing Research found.
Filling a void
Hyundai followed up its Super Bowl gambit with an ad blitz in ABC's
Academy Awards broadcast, its first national play with the Oscars.
The automaker's new media agency, Initiative, Irvine, Calif., had
alerted Hyundai to the void left by financially ailing GM as
exclusive auto sponsor of the program, a vacuum Hyundai will be
filling for three years after inking a deal less than two months
before the broadcast. Hyundai also signed a deal with Fox to place
its vehicles in "24" and advertise during the show after Ford
In April, the marketer dropped Goodby and moved its national
creative account, including digital, without a review, to Innocean
Worldwide Americas, a subsidiary of Korean parent's Hyundai Motor
Group. Innocean also provides media oversight, promotion and events
planning for both Hyundai and affiliate Kia Motors America. Jim
Sanfilippo, exec VP and CEO of Innocean's Irvine, Calif., office,
said Goodby was "a tough act to follow." After reviewing all the
metrics, which Innocean had as media coordinator, Innocean opted to
stick with the "Think About It" theme.
"We love the brand voice that Joel [Ewanick] has achieved, and
that's rare in automotive these days," said Mr. Sanfilippo. Hyundai
is "no longer an alternative, we're a rival."
At the end of the half-year mark, Hyundai posted an all-time
high U.S. market share of 4.2% compared to 3.1% at the end of June
2008. Not only that, even though Hyundai's monthly June sales slid
by 24% from the prior June, it outsold Chrysler Group's volume
Dodge brand for the first time, boosting the brand to the sixth
biggest by sales in the U.S. in the industry's worst climate in
decades. June 2009 marked Hyundai's best monthly sales tally ever,
even with decreased sales. June brought another accolade to the
brand. Hyundai ranked fourth behind Lexus, Porsche and Cadillac,
respectively, in consultant J.D. Power and Associates' annual
Initial Quality Survey. In 2008, Hyundai ranked thirteenth in that
survey, in which consumers rate their new vehicles at 90 days of
The Fountain Valley, Calif., automaker kept the pressure on
competitors in July. Rather than advertise vehicle incentives that
can damage brand image, Hyundai introduced Assurance Gas Lock,
which guaranteed summer-month buyers $1.49-per-gallon for a year.
The feisty marketer then jumped the gun in early July, weeks ahead
of the Cash for Clunkers' program, with an ad campaign saying it
was already offering the tax credits ahead of Uncle Sam's July 24
"We saw the [clunkers] program coming, and we understood the
[government's] rules, so we mobilized the program and had ads
running July Fourth weekend," said Mr. Ewanick. Hyundai's messages
of the early clunker rebates, along with Assurance and the Gas Lock
programs, gave the marketer "a better and richer story to tell," he
In early October, the marketer started advertising the new
HyundaiMomentum.com microsite, a
place for people to see what third parties are writing about the
brand's cars and trucks. Ads from Innocean will run online and
during NFL TV broadcasts through November.
"We have been receiving a lot of accolades, awards and positive
reinforcement from the press and consumers, and shoppers are
noticing this," said Mr. Perry. "We needed to find a way to harness
this momentum and offer it up in a way that is easy for the
consumer to access and understand."
"Hyundai is really ahead of the game," said CNW Marketing
Research President Art Spinella, and the brand has managed to
capture a lot of shoppers who had Toyota on their lists. He said
Hyundai is building its brand and consideration the same way Toyota
did decades ago -- "with a good car at a good price and a lot of
exposure with a lot of ads."
The marketer said 60% of Americans today are now aware of
Hyundai and willing to buy the brand, compared to just 40% two
years ago. Mr. Ewanick credited better products backed by the
"Think about it" campaign. "It's a proof campaign, and we are
giving people evidence about our cars and our quality and our
styling, and we keep shoveling on the facts and information."
Mr. Ewanick admitted his budgets have been flat and will stay that
way in 2010, give or take a few percentage points. This year he
shifted dollars from print to online, buying more on newspaper and
magazine sites. The automaker spent nearly $115 million in U.S.
measured media in the first half of 2009 vs. $107 million in the
same six-month period of 2008, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Both figures are without internet spending. The marketer spent $348
million last year, including internet, TNS reported.
"Hyundai has been very successful with their new-product
launches," especially the Genesis line, said Alexander Edwards,
president of consultant Strategic Vision's auto group. The sedan
and coupe models attract buyers with median annual household
incomes of $120,000 vs. $75,000 across the rest of Hyundai,
Strategic Vision data show. "Clearly the Genesis has brought in a
new kind of buyer to Hyundai," Mr. Edwards said.
As for what rivals make of Hyundai's innovation streak, he said
the "Bosses" Super Bowl spot showing German and Japanese-speaking
car execs screaming at underlings because of Genesis'
car-of-the-year win, isn't so farfetched. Competitors he wouldn't
name, including mass and premium makers, are asking Mr. Edwards,
"What do we have to worry about with Hyundai?"
"Everybody wants to find out what Hyundai will do next," he