Commentary

Hyundai's Turn To The Right Brain Is Paying Off

Hyundai has move up another four slots to No. 61 in Interbrand’s 2011 “2011 Best 100 Global Brands,” which was released last week, and it was the fastest-growing brand among automakers –- a 19.3% surge over 2010 –- for the second straight year. The average growth rate of the top 11 automotive brands was 8.1%, Newsmaker.com reports; Volkswagen was the second-fastest growing brand at 14%.

“In a clear display of responsiveness, Hyundai has widened its product lineup and consumers have taken notice. It is investing in the development of innovative products and the company continues to grow more appealing to emerging markets as well as rapidly changing mature markets,” Interbrand says.

And while “its value-for-money proposition continues to differentiate it from more costly competitors,” it is also "very determined to have people attach themselves more emotionally to this brand," Hyundai Motor America vp-marketing Steve Shannon tellsAd Age’s Julie Halpert this morning. “That's new territory for us."

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Indeed, one of the first things Shannon did when he took over from Joel Ewanick, now CMO-global marketing at General Motors, last spring was to throw out a developing campaign for the 2012 Veloster that he thought lacked "connective tissue," including TV spots that just broke.

In a separate story on the campaign, Halpert informs us that it positions the vehicle as “more than a car, it's a ‘hangout’” targeted to Gen Y buyers. An Xbox can be plugged into the front console, for example.

But key to the appeal is the car’s “completely modern look” and “sleek sportbike-inspired interior,” as its website informs us. “If you look at our design, the Veloster stands out,” senior manager-product planning Brandon Ramirez tells Halpert. “Technology is part of that as well."

The Sonata, now in its sixth generation, is also turning eyes. In a review in Car & Driver this summer, Jon Yanca calls it “the firm’s big breakthrough” and an “A lister” that has broken into the magazine’s “10 Best” rankings for 2011.

In a four-and-a-half out of five stars review, Bloomberg BusinessWeek’s Thane Peterson says the Sonata “matches or bests the competition by almost every measure” and points out that its “dramatic new styling, with its curvy, carved side profile and radically raked roofline, isn't just for show.” In short, it’s got great “co-efficient of drag,” although I’m not sure that’s a feature you’ll see in touted in advertising. But its good looks probably will be, at least in this country.

“Once known for humdrum styling … the Korean automaker's audacious fluidic sculpture design language has been a big part of the company's ascent in the United States,” writes Automotive Week’s Ryan Beene. “For example, its exotic surface treatment helped make styling the second-most-influential reason, after the warranty, why consumers bought the Sonata, according to a J.D. Power & Associates study.” The “swoopy” Elantra has also brought attention.

But, Beene reports, the new designs have not been as popular in Korea. "Fluidic sculpture was something radically new in the market, and the customer has to follow, so it takes some time," Thomas Buerkle, chief designer of Hyundai's European Design Center, tells him.

A new, overarching campaign scheduled to launch on the Super Bowl broadcast in February will look “to elevate the brand beyond its value- and design-focused image,” Shannon tells Beene in a separate story, to “focus on quality, safety and engineering credentials.”

Spending will increase “by a healthy increment” but Shannon will not get more specific. "Now is the time to step on the gas, he tells Beene. “There's a real opportunity to evolve our messaging or add to our messaging that is more at the brand level -- what does the Hyundai brand mean."

Halpert reports that the general thrust will be to sell the brand over individual nameplates: "[Shannon's] goal is to have potential customers check out Hyundai first, instead of being drawn to the brand because of one particular car."

"Products won't always be this hot, so it's important to develop a strong Hyundai brand," Shannon says.

Sounds like the pedal is to the floor even as U.S. automakers get back in the race.

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