Kia Leverages 'Power To Surprise' In Ads

Kia SoulKia is making big changes to products and marketing this year as it rolls out its Soul compact car aimed at younger consumers that goes on sale next month, and later the new Forte, which replaces the Spectra compact.

Michael Sprague, Kia's vice president of marketing, says the new vehicles will be paired with advertising that shifts the message from touting the brand as a maker of affordable cars for the value-minded to that of a carmaker for people who put value on design, function and technology.

"For so long we have been known as a value brand with a great warranty, great fuel economy and safety technology," says Sprague. "We now are bringing out great designed product, so we feel that new products will make people take a look at Kia in a different way; particularly with the current economic environment, 'value' is a new kind of 'cool.'"



He says the design changes started after Kia hired Chief Design Officer Peter Schreyer away from VW and Audi in 2006. "It takes three or five years to bring new product to market; Soul is the first product that shows his influence. At end of day, we want a more emotional connection with brand, and you achieve that with great designed product."

Kia's AOR, L.A.-based David and Goliath, has long supported the brand with humor. Sprague says that humor will be tempered. "In the past, a lot of our ads were more focused on humor rather than the product, and those were the right ads for the times, but now the products and features will be the heroes. You will still have a little bit of humor. We are a fun brand and youthful brand, and humor connects."

He says the forthcoming ads for Soul will be "edgier." Kia's brand tag-line is "The Power to Surprise." Also new will be a companion accessory program that allows customers to personalize the vehicles. If that brings Toyota's Scion division to mind, the comparison is not lost on Kia.

"We know people will compare us to Scion and even to Mini. The Scion is more customization, and we are more personalization," he says, adding that there will be over 60 after-market accessories for the car. Sprague says the Soul to be featured in at least one of the launch ads will likewise be loaded with after-market accessories.

The company began teasing the car in end-of-year clearance ads, although it wasn't on sale, showing a quick image of the car rotating turntable fashion, and directing customers to the Kia consumer Web site. Sprague says the U.S. organization, meanwhile, brought 650 of the Korean-market version of the cars from overseas, placing them at 560 dealerships throughout the country to gauge interest. "We directed them to local dealers to physically see it. That allowed dealership personnel to learn about the consumer who would come in to see it, and understand who they are and what they need," he says.

The company, which introduced the 2010 Kia Forte at the Chicago Auto Show last week, last year moved into sports in a big way, inking partnerships with the National Basketball Association, the World Cup soccer tournament and the Asian Games and most recently, the Australian Open tennis championship. The company also advertised during the Super Bowl pre-game. Sprague says the deals have allowed Kia to put Soul at sports events. Kia has also re-upped as sponsor of the Vans Warped tour, a summer all-rock road show, at which both Soul and Forte will be placed. "We will be able to show generally younger people that Kia has relevant product for them," he says.

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