Chris Perry has just been named VP marketing at Hyundai Motor America, replacing Joel Ewanick, who departed in March -- first to lead U.S. marketing at Nissan, and then to GM, where he is overseeing marketing for the automaker's four brands. Perry, now reporting to CEO John Krafcik, has helped develop the automaker's award-winning marketing strategy that includes big-exposure media buys and an aspirational position that makes the Hyundai of a decade ago seem like a brand from another era.
Q: Does your promotion presage any significant changes to Hyundai's cornerstone media strategy of advertising on big-event broadcasts?
A: No, I like it a lot; and I was one of the architects. So we will continue our "Big Voices, Big Places" strategy. Just recently -- three weeks ago -- we signed a deal with NBC to be title sponsor of the pre-game show for "Sunday Night Football." So now Bob Costas will be behind a Hyundai-branded desk.
Q: Why is that a strong media position for Hyundai?
A: It's big for us because NBC has developed it into a major football property; people show up for that pre-game show because it's both a recap of the day's events with a lot of highlights and scores, and a preview of the evening's game. And we will have a presence during Sunday night games, but not all of them.
Q: As director of marketing communications, you did a lot of work developing Hyundai's Web marketing strategy. What's next?
A: We are going to invest more online; it's really critical for our brand. People interested in our brand go to our site and to third-party sites. For example, we are building out our Web presence so that Hyundai Motor America's tier-one consumer Web site is aligned with tier-two [dealer regions] and tier-three [individual dealer] sites. We are working with a company called Cobalt, that is building all of our tier-three sites -- they have done around 790 so far -- so the experience for customers is seamless and consistent from tier one to tier three.
Q: So no changes are in store in terms of the direction of ad creative?
A: I'm very happy with ad creative. When we brought in Goodby, Silverstein & Partners we tried very hard to create a certain tone, an attitude including bringing in [actor and VO] Jeff Bridges. We have carried that over to [new agency] Innocean. When consumers will say they don't see any difference for us, that's great because it shows we maintained a particular voice with consumers. That tonality we don't see changing at all, from where we were before.
What I want to do differently -- what I think is, we need to maintain that "Big Voices" strategy, we need to do more at the grassroots level. And we have not done much in multicultural marketing, and that's an area in which we need to expand a lot.
Q: What about social media? How are you approaching the brand's presence in places like Facebook?
A: We have started a task force around social media. That is particularly important for us because regardless of the success we have had, people are still unfamiliar with the brand. And the more I dig into it, I realize that there are few real experts there, partly because it is continuing to evolve at such a rapid pace. Brands' roles are always being defined. But on an average day 46 million people are on Facebook, and they are making, on average, 2.6 visits. That's huge, and it's just getting bigger. So it's a place where we want to be.
Q: But what should Hyundai actually be doing on Facebook? Is it a matter of talking about products?
A: We have had this big debate about it. You know, over the years, advertisement media strategy hasn't changed that much: Newspapers to radio to magazines to TV -- the messaging might be essentially the same. But [social media] isn't just another media channel. So we have a target audience we have identified for our brand and we want to make sure that we understand how they feel about social media, about how brands should interact with them in that space.
Consumers understand that we are a marketing country, and that brands will want to play in that space. But it's not the rational aspects about our brand that we can leverage there, but the softer side -- the philanthropic side, lifestyle, ecological initiatives -- to help consumers there become familiar with and feel better about the brand.
Unfamiliarity with our brand is something we have to overcome. We do a lot of focus groups, and I love to attend them. At one of them someone said, "You know what, you guys are foreign -- you are not like Toyota and Honda, who are part of America. I understand that they come from Japan, but I feel comfortable with them. I'm not familiar with your brand yet." We have our rationale and product chops down, but there are other areas we need to work on. We have been very successful, but we have to be humble.
Q: How about online advertising on third-party sites where auto shoppers browse?
A: We will invest in third-party sites like Edmunds.com, and Kelley Blue Book, so our presence will continue to grow there. Just this week we have done three home-page takeovers: On Monday we took over MSN, Tuesday we did the same with Yahoo, and for Friday it's AOL, all of which generate huge loads of traffic for us, actually equal to what we get for our Super Bowl presence.