Commentary

Kia "Who's Next?" Campaign Brings Class-Clownery to Scale

Being a YouTube star is a dubious honor best left to the madcap exhibitionists who seem to go viral with irritating antics. Call it class-clownery brought to massive scale. Obnoxious and untalented as this ragtag faux celebrity tribe may be, there seems to be no shortage of aspirants. Kia makes a smart play to capture that vibe with the new "Who's Next?" contest at YouTube. They have enlisted amateur talents ShayCarl, Lisa Nova and the duo SMOSH to front a promotion and contest on behalf of the Kia Soul. Following the "New Way to Roll" tagline, the program asks viewers to upload videos of their own "way to roll." The "talent contest" is searching for the next Internet star and will award $10,000 in a Grand Prize. ShayCarl, Lisa Nova and SMOSH will be the "celebrity judges." Is there a limit on the number of qualifying quotation marks I can put in a paragraph? I'll stop now before the SHIFT key fails.

Kia maps this contest against the branding message of the Soul, that its funky shape appeals to those who want to stand out. Kia, by the way, is the brand behind those very good animated hip hop hamsters. Everything about this car, its branding and campaign has a note of knowing irony about it.

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It all unwittingly raises the question of what constitutes "Internet fame" (sorry, couldn't be helped) and what the hell it is good for. Even the celeb judges riff snarky about how far it really has gotten them ... not. The video submissions will be judged on the ways in which they incorporate the brand values of personality and features, use of technology, style and popular music. But for advertisers, it is all about scale. According to Kia's math this trio of YouTube heroes has been responsible for over 640 million video views and a collective subscriber base of 2.63 million. Those are numbers a brand can learn to love, even if they probably aren't enough to get these kids out of their parents' basement.

But the campaign is smart and aligns the purported values of individuality and expressiveness with the Soul brand. As a Mini Cooper owner and brand loyalist I personally appreciate the appeal of quirky stylings, although I prefer Mini's brand alignment with themes of creative uses of space. But I am the middle-aged target for Mini's no-damned-SUV-for-me appeal. Kia and its youthful market? Break dancing hamsters and loud-mouthed YouTube celebs.

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