It hired Joel Ewanick, former CMO of Hyundai, to oversee GM marketing as well as the marketing of all GM brands, including Chevy, Buick, Cadillac and GMC.
Finally, a decision from Detroit that makes sense ... hiring a decision maker.
On Mr. Ewanick's watch, the game-changing and highly successful Hyundai Assurance Plan was created and launched in just 37 days. Ewanick oversaw the launch of the Hyundai Genesis, a Korean luxury sedan that will have as much or more effect on the luxury sedan market than Lexus did 20 years ago, and he introduced the new Sonata, sales of which immediately increased 50% year on year.
So what has this got to do with a column about marketing to boomers? Well, to my way of thinking, Mr. Ewanick's Hyundai advertising is the only (yes, I said only) automotive advertising in the U.S. today that truly appeals to the boomer consumer.
And since people 50+ buy 56% of all new cars, that's not just a bold statement, it's a statement with the kind of numbers behind it that can mean the difference between success and failure for a car company.
While every other automotive brand, including Mercedes Benz and Cadillac, is going out of their way to appeal to much younger buyers than their brands' average, Joel Ewanick and Hyundai have taken a different approach -- appeal to intelligent, thoughtful and wise adult buyers no matter what their age.
Of course, given that the median age of an American adult is 49, this means that Hyundai is speaking to boatloads of boomers.
The results? How about this; in January 2009, perhaps the worst month in automotive sales history, Honda, Toyota and Chevy sales dropped more than 30% (after an already dismal 2008); meanwhile, Hyundai was up 14%.
In January 2010, Hyundai rose another 24% while Honda dropped 5%. In fact, Hyundai has seen something like 18 straight months of sales increases while the rest of the automotive industry has been in "crisis."
So what is it about Hyundai's advertising that works for boomers?
First, it puts the product front and center. Whether it's a spot about the 100,000-mile warranty, the Hyundai Assurance Program or Hyundai employees hand-carrying a new Sonata through the entire assembly process, the film and the car are as stunningly beautiful as anything ever produced by Mercedes Benz or BMW.
Second, it's straight-forward, honest and informative. It tells viewers what they need to know about the brand and the product, simply and elegantly. I don't have to think hard to understand the message. Alas, this was once the territory of brands like BMW, Volvo and Honda. Today, not so much.
Third, it assumes that the viewer is not an idiot. The copy, read by Jeff Bridges, is mature and insightful, with the demeanor of a trusted friend chatting with you over a beer. No yelling, no loud music, no special effects, no over-the-top joke to grab your attention.
Fourth, all of this incredibly successful Hyundai advertising relies not on digital or viral or social media, but on "traditional" media like print and television (audible gasp goes here). Two media whose average reader and viewer is 50+.
This from Mr. Ewanick in an Ad Age interview last October: "My faith in ads has been significantly reinforced this year. The power of the 30-second commercial, if done right, can move mountains."
All of which is the perfect pitch to the very busy, very smart, very open to new brands, 45-65 consumer. The consumer that Detroit lost 30-some years ago when we switched from Chevys and Chryslers to Toyotas and Hondas, from Cadillacs and Lincolns to BMWs, Mercedeses and eventually Lexuses. The consumer that spends $2.5 trillion annually compared to $1.5 trillion for the younger segments.
Having spent a few years in Detroit recently, I can tell you that automakers are squarely focused on, you guessed it, the 25-35 consumer. Their youth blinders are machine-welded firmly in place.
A friend of mine was recently in Detroit pitching a medium that targets boomers. A very nice marketing woman who will remain nameless remarked that while she loved the medium and the content, her brand didn't communicate "to people over age 50 because they don't have a lot of buying cycles left in them."
She was apparently unaware of the fact that the average America household buys 13 cars in its lifetime, 7 of them after the head of household turns 50 years old.
I have a feeling Joel Ewanick would not be caught off-guard or surprised by this Statistic; he seems to get it instinctively.
Maybe that's because, as one automotive journal said recently, he's a "marketing whiz."
Or could it be because he turns 50 this year.
I'm guessing it's a combination of both. A combination that Detroit -- and especially General Motors -- is desperately in need of.