Kia has appeared in 10 straight Super Bowls, often using celebrities in ads that went for laughs. But this year the Korean automaker took a major detour with a 90-second ad touting its factory in the American South and the workers employed there.
The ad, set in the small town of West Point, Georgia, is narrated by a cowboy-hat wearing boy from the town named Corbin. "There are no stars in the sidewalk for us, no statues in our honor. We are just a small Georgia town of complete unknowns," he says in the opening scene. "The closest thing to a world stage is 81-miles away in Atlanta tonight," he adds, referencing the Super Bowl site.
The ad, by David & Goliath, goes on to plug the Kia Telluride, a new SUV being made at the West Point plant, which has been in operation since 2009 when the automaker first began making its Kia Sorento there.
The spot takes a markedly different tone than previous Kia Super Bowl ads that have used celebrities including Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, Melissa McCarthy, Christopher Walken and Pierce Brosnan. The serious approach stands in contrast to the Super Bowl strategy used this year by many other brands, which made heavy use of celebrities with ads going for laughs.
Saad Chehab, VP of marketing communications for Kia Motors America, said Kia wanted to avoid the "gloss and celebration and fun and noise" to focus on the people in West Point. "The authenticity is what was very, very key to us," he said in an interview last week.
Everyone featured in the ad is from the town, he said. Kia representatives began selecting the ad's participants about six months ago, simply telling them the brand was shooting a documentary about West Point and Kia's role in the town. As part of the Super Bowl campaign, Kia produced a long-form video that positions the automaker's plant as a savior, lifting the town from economic depression and despair in the wake of mill closures.
As of last week, Kia had not told the people in the ad that it was for the Super Bowl. "We are leaving it as a surprise," said Chehab, although it's likely they figured it out because Kia released a teaser of the ad on Jan. 20.
By featuring a small town in the South, the ad seems tailor made for supporters of President Donald Trump that espouse an America-first mentality. But Chehab said the brand is going for a wider reach: "We want to appeal to all Americans to be proud of things made here."
As part of the campaign, Kia is starting a national college scholarship fund targeting people in need. The program got a short plug at the end of the Super Bowl ad, which lists the web site where people can apply, called TheGreatUnknowns.org.