Super Bowl

Behind Hyundai's Last-Minute Call to Cancel a Real-Time Super Bowl Ad

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Following up on last year's Super Bowl ad that was shot in real-time, Hyundai this year had grand plans to again make most of its spot on the fly by surprising people walking into U.S. Stadium in Minneapolis on game day. But the automaker had to call a last-minute audible and film the entire ad in advance to skirt security concerns raised by the NFL and officials overseeing security.

The change-up shows how so-called real-time advertising, which has gained popularity in recent years, is not the easiest thing to pull off, especially for TV ads.

The 60-second ad was released Sunday evening online just as the game began. It will air during the broadcast in the fourth quarter.

The ad keeps the same general plot that was originally scripted by Hyundai and lead agency Innocean. It promotes a nonprofit group, Hyundai Hope on Wheels, that distributes a small portion of proceeds from every Hyundai vehicle purchased to institutions fighting childhood cancer. But the agency and brand had to scramble at the last minute to navigate logistical hurdles.

The original plan was to surprise pre-selected Hyundai owners walking into the stadium on game day. They would walk through what appears to be regular security line. But upon getting through the metal detector, they would be pulled aside and escorted to a room, where they would meet up with cancer survivors thanking them for their donations to the nonprofit via their vehicle purchase.

That is generally how the ad that aired in the fourth quarter appears. But instead of getting people walking into the stadium, Hyundai filmed it in advance by catching folks entering the "Super Bowl Experience" at the Minneapolis Convention Center, a weeklong event that ended Saturday featuring games, youth football clinics, merchandise and more.

NFL ruling

Roughly 10 days before the game, Hyundai was informed by the NFL that its original idea was a no-go. "All of our creative ideas have to go through them first," a Hyundai spokesman said in an email. "The NFL works with all of the departments that are responsible for Super Bowl security, including DHS [Department of Homeland Security]. Because of that, the NFL knows the security plan and policy and was able to tell us that doing that element on game day wouldn't be possible."

A Homeland Security spokeswoman in an email said that the rules are "dictated by local laws, ordinances, and policies of venue owners and tenants," but that the department is "engaged in support of the City of Minneapolis as it is their event." An NFL spokesman confirmed Hyundai's account and said "this was another example of two partners working together," referring to Hyundai, which sponsors the league.

Hyundai and Innocean didn't raise a stink about the switch.

"We had to adjust with what we are able to do," Eric Springer, chief creative officer at Innocean USA, said in an interview last week. "The authenticity of having real owners being absolutely surprised by this message from the company, that to us was the important part." Hyundai Motor America Chief Marketing Officer Dean Evans said he was actually relieved when the game-day idea got shot down. It allowed for more "more time to breathe and really pull out a good film," he said last week.

Last year, Hyundai shot nearly its entire ad during the Super Bowl, filming scenes in Houston's NRG Stadium and a military base in Poland. The ad, which aired post-game, showed military members being virtually reunited with family members who were attending the game.

It was a complex endeavor requiring cooperation from the Department of Defense. "What we learned from last year was it was just too much and we were lucky that it pulled off like that," Evans said. This year, he said he didn't want to count as much on luck. Even after the stadium idea got shot down, Hyundai had planned to capture at least some game day footage. But in the end, the marketer opted to film the entire ad in advance so that it would appear more polished.

Still, Hyundai stuck with last year's strategy of promoting the corporate brand over a specific vehicle. "Instead of surprising heroes that are military, we are surprising heroes that are Hyundai owners," Springer said. Hyundai and its dealers contribute a total of $28 for each vehicle sold to Hyundai Hope on Wheels, which has raised more than $130 million over 20 years to fight pediatric cancer.

The Hyundai owners in the ad were pre-selected with the help of Minneapolis-area Hyundai dealers. They got invited to the Super Bowl Experience event where they were told to enter a special line for a VIP experience. That experience turned out to be the personal meeting with cancer survivors. The spot ends with the line, "hope is our greatest feature and it comes standard on every Hyundai."

Hyundai joined other advertisers, such as Budweiser and Stella Artois, that sought to connect their brands with philanthropic causes in their Super Bowl ads, while avoiding anything looking even remotely political. "It's not only a tale of hope, but unity, which is something the country is in desperate need of," Springer said of Hyundai's ad. Whether or not buyers make that connection to the brand the next time they step on a car dealer lot remains to be seen.

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