With several opponents on the auto field injured and sending in the second string, Hyundai is dropping back to throw for a touchdown. The automaker is doing its biggest ad push ever for a single model this year, including a raft of ads on Super Bowl Sunday that tout the totally redesigned Sonata and Tucson vehicles, and broadcasting the message that Hyundai has taken a leadership position in the auto industry.
Sonata, Hyundai's core vehicle, which competes in the brutal mid-size segment of the auto market, will get the most media largess this year, and it is the vehicle that gets the big spotlight during Bowl Day and a month later during the Oscars.
The company, which ran two spots during the game last year, this year will run two during the Super Bowl and four before. The spots, narrated with avuncular gravitas by Jeff Bridges, are elegantly shot and talk about Hyundai the company through Sonata the car. The first, for instance, touts Sonata's 35-mpg rating and Hyundai's leadership in fuel efficiency; another pre-kickoff ad focuses on Hyundai's proactive work on vehicle safety.
The third, called "Body Pass," is a quality-themed ad that shows a Sonata being literally carried by crowds of workers at Hyundai's plant in Montgomery, Ala. as a metaphor for how Hyundai has a hand-built manufacturing ethos. Voiceover explains that the plant is one of the most technologically advanced in the world. "But it's having every one of our team members in charge of quality that makes it feel as if the all-new Sonata was built by hand." The final pre-game spot stands alone between the singing of the national anthem and kickoff. The ad has Bridges quoting flattering reviews of Sonata from Edmunds.com, Car and Driver and others, with the message that Sonata embodies Hyundai's avant-garde place in the automotive world. The ad finishes with Bridges explaining that what the reviewers didn't know was that the car can be had for under $20,000."
Two ads will run during the game proper; one set to classical music shows the balletic maneuvers of assembly-line robots applying paint to a Sonata body. The final spot plays on Brett Favre's now-famous indecisiveness to tout Hyundai durability. In the ad, set in the year 2020, a gray-haired Favre accepts the MVP award, a futuristic hologram-enhanced trophy.
Joel Ewanick, VP of marketing at the Fountain Valley, Calif.-based Hyundai Motor America, tells Marketing Daily the Super Bowl campaign breaks a lot of rules, but not with salacious humor or shock value (the subtle humor in the ads may be as much due to Bridges' personality as to the content.)
"We are telling our story using the format we have used before," he says. "It's a trap for advertisers to be something they're not just to accomplish 'funny.' We sell cars. We aren't a beer brand. We have to stay within who we are."
He says Hyundai can do dramatic rather than comedic ads because the automaker took "A" positions in its two in-game ad buys, meaning the first ads one sees at station break are Hyundai ads. "So if we were in the middle [of an ad pod] it would be a bit of a problem. But the fact that we are kicking off the pods allows us to be straight."
Then, on the Academy Awards program, Hyundai will run another set of ads, one of which has the message that with Hyundai luxury, is not the province of the very wealthy. The ad, featuring the Sonata, shows things like a couple of cops in their squad car eating not donuts but caviar on water biscuits; a blue-collar cafeteria where workers are eating lobster, racks of lamb and shrimp; and a red carpet serving as a street crosswalk.
Another Sonata ad during the Oscars will show people on crowded streets suddenly stopping, leaping out of their cars and trading, musical chairs fashion. Except for the guy in the Sonata, who can't bring himself to leave the car.
And Hyundai will also run a series of Web ads intended to be viral. The humorous ads tout Hyundai's safety technology by showing what 16-year-olds who are getting their driver's licenses also like to do: live like sloths in bedrooms that are maelstroms of chaos; crash virtual cars in video games; bungee jump.
As for Hyundai's future with the Super Bowl, Ewanick was Favre-esque: "How long can we do this? We are probably coming to the end of that. Maybe this is the last year we can do it, maybe we can do it one more year," he says. "The surprise of having Hyundai in the Super Bowl is still there; it's still effective -- so we can do it one more time."