The chain started marketing the car for its launch in 2009, and
Michael Sprague, Kia's exec VP-marketing and communications, said
at Ad Age 's Small Agency Conference today that the company's sales
are up 78% since 2008, thanks in part to the success of the
Mr. Sprague, who called Kia a brand with a challenger mind-set,
said the Soul was so successful because of how the company, thanks
in part to its agencies, approached the campaign and how it
appealed to its target demographic: Gen Y, or millennials.
To appeal to millennials, the marketer structured the campaign
around four pillars of their lifestyles: music, sports, pop
culture, and what Mr. Sprague called "connected life," which
includes a connection to technology and close ties to friends and
Mr. Sprague added that Kia wanted to turn the hamsters into
icons, and to do that it had to connect the giant rodents to
"music, fashion and pop culture." As for music, the marketer worked
with hip-hop duo Black Sheep, whose song "This or That" was
featured in a spot.
Despite the success of the hamsters, they almost didn't make the
cut. Mr. Sprague said that other concepts were being considered for
the campaign, including boars that sported backpacks.
Kia didn't want to become "known as the hamster brand," even
though it eventually did, said Mr. Sprague. To branch out beyond
the hamsters, Kia came up with promotions such as partnering with
NBA star Blake Griffin for the Kia Optima, in which Mr. Griffin
dunked over an Optima in the slam-dunk contest during the NBA's
All-Star weekend in 2011.
As for the success of Kia's relationships with its agencies --
it's been working with David & Goliath
for 13 years, and has long-term relationships with Go Productions,
Zeno Group and
Animated Designs -- Mr. Sprague said Kia and its agencies are
focused risk takers that all value a fast-paced environment.
He added that success can also be attributed to the fact that
Kia has no bureaucracy; when it comes to marketing, he only has to
consult one person above him: the CEO.
His advice for agencies? "Continue to push the envelope with
your clients," he said. "There are no bad ideas. ... After all, we
came up with hamsters."