Kia's Marketing VP Dishes On Bowl Strategy

Michael Sprague

Kia enters the Super Bowl for the first time Sunday with a new TV ad that features a cast of animated characters that, in at least one sense, are also very real. But it's just the beginning of a new campaign for the 2011 Sorento SUV, which went on sale last month.

Kia is going after young families with Sorento, which started as a traditional body-on-frame SUV but is now in its second iteration as a car-like crossover. All the better to lure 30-something families who can't quite bring themselves to get a minivan. The new campaign, via Kia's AOR, L.A.-based David and Goliath, uses five very popular toys to represent five product attributes. Tag: "A Departure from the Expected."

Michael Sprague, VP of marketing at the Irvine, Calif.-based company, talks to Marketing Daily about the product, the program and the pitch.



Q: Whom is new Sorento for?

A: We call them contemporary parents: they are people who have active lifestyles before they have kids, and still want to continue that lifestyle; they're mountain-biking dads and blogging moms. When we look at data from the competition, there are lots of young families -- people who grew up in minivans are having their first or second kids --who don't want to be their parents who drove about in minivans. So we have seen them moving to crossovers.

Q: Why did you choose these particular toys for the campaign?

A: There were five attributes we wanted to call out in the vehicle. But instead of saying "look at this design," or "Sorento: it's fun to drive, and has lots if great technology," etc., we wanted to use characters to represent those attributes. So the Muno (from Nick Jr.'s "Yo! Gabba Gabba" series) represents eye-catching design; the Sock Monkey is agility; Mr. X (the Blabla Mr. X Boogaloo Doll) represents fun; the teddy bear represents safety and security and the wind-up robot toy represents Sorento's advanced technology. These characters will be used as icons for vehicle attributes. They will be incorporated in all marketing materials once the Super Bowl launches: in digital, print, out-of-home, direct, mobile. For example, if we are highlighting one of Sorento's technology attributes, you will clearly see the robot as the representation.

Q: Will there be additional TV spots featuring these five characters post-Bowl?

A: After Monday we will air two 30-second spots that will include the characters and they will live through the campaign. We are also in [an ad pod] in the Olympics -- in the opening ceremony.

Q: How is the Sorento doing so far and what sort of pre-launch activity did you have leading up to this new effort?

A: In the first month we sold 7,000 units. We teased Sorento with a pre-launch in October, a brand campaign with ads on ESPN and TNT (as part of our NBA sponsorship), and an in-theatre campaign. We ran a 60-second spot called "Bicycle" about our investment in Georgia, about Kia starting in 1951 as a bicycle company, and how we have gone from bikes to the new Sorento. That has given us very good results based on our tracking studies and also through cinema company data.

That ran through early January, and from January through the first week of February we have run a 30-second version of it. We also have, in New York, a big billboard in Times Square -- really dramatic. We also did direct and email and a lot of print in newspaper telling people about the plant and car. And all of that has led up to this new campaign.

Q: Doesn't that go counter to the common wisdom that you have to keep the Super Bowl ad a big secret to built anticipation?

A: We want people to check out our ad, to build the momentum. When we were looking at our Super Bowl strategy, we were having lots of discussion about holding the ad or getting it out there and connecting with those who like to be the first to know -- our brand advocates and enthusiasts. Also, some of the [toy] characters we are using in the ads have their own following.

Q: I'm wondering if there will be an issue vis-à-vis consumers thinking Sorento is still a body-on-frame SUV? Would it have been better to create a brand new nameplate to avoid confusion, since Sorento is now a crossover?

A: Last year we replaced the Spectra with the Forte; that requires a lot of time and effort to educate consumers about a new brand nameplate. The Spectra had negative connotations, so we felt that definitely we needed to change. Sorento has strong brand cachet. Dealers are very positive on it, and owners are very positive. So we felt it was important to keep the Sorento name and that it would actually be easier to educate consumers that it's not an SUV any longer but a crossover -- and that's why you won't see it in advertising going off-road, but more about the driving experience, the cargo and passenger capacity, the fuel efficiency. The fuel efficiency alone is a good indicator to consumers that it's no longer a traditional SUV.

1 comment about "Kia's Marketing VP Dishes On Bowl Strategy ".
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  1. John Morgan from Motozuma, February 5, 2010 at 11:29 a.m.

    Congrats to Michael & Kia, they have a chance to hit a home run with this one.

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