Kia's Michael Sprague On Walken, Watson

Anyone who follows Christopher Walken, which people of all ages do, knows Kia has tapped the actor for its Super Bowl ad this Sunday. The campaign includes a social media element involving the services of mobile marketing firm Influential, and most unusual, Influential’s use of IBM’s Watson computer (presumably during its coffee break) to identify 100 or so influencers whose zeitgeist matches Kia’s.

Marketing Daily caught up with Michael Sprague, COO and EVP of Irvine, Calif.-based Kia Motors America, to talk about the campaign.

Q: This may well be the first time Christopher Walken has appeared in an ad. How did it happen?

A: Yes, in the U.S., it is. David & Goliath [Kia’s longtime AOR] came up with this idea. His team liked it, and one thing led to another. It was great because the concept really resonates with how we were trying to position the Optima.



Q: Why does Walken fit the Optima?

A: He’s cool and iconic, and he resonates with a broad demographic, including young people. Millennials really connect with him, so he has a huge following among people of all ages. You can go online and see many parodies, and he’s been on “Saturday Night Live” multiple times. He’s a phenomenon.

Q: To be clear, the Super Bowl is the first time the Walken and Kia relationship will be on TV?

A: He was part of the campaign when we launched two spots in January: he is the voiceover in the Cookie Cutter and Middle C ads for Optima. We were really teasing the idea that he was going to be in the Super Bowl. We did it again with a 15-second teaser, and social media blew up.

Q: Given that this is Christopher Walken, and the surprise factor from that alone could pretty much steal the show, why didn’t you keep it close to your chest until the actual game?

A: Years ago that was the standard — release on game day, to build anticipation. But the market has changed so much. Once the two teams are identified, people get excited about it because it’s the one time of year that people watch a game to see the creative. We knew we had great assets with him and wanted to use him to amplify [Optima] to a broader audience. Two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl there is a lot of chatter, and we wanted to be part of that conversation. For an auto brand, we are still young in the U.S. So we need to build awareness. If we had waited, we would just be one of 50 spots on that day. We are, instead, generating lots of interest and excitement before game day.

Q: Tell me how (social media marketing firm) Influential worked with IBM’s Watson computer for finding the right people to generate buzz.

A: Influential uses the power of Watson to take massive amounts of data generated every day to help identify influencers. Normally, we would look at these people in terms of demographic and social reach. “They have nine million Twitter followers, men 54 and older.” Influential lets us use Watson to reach even deeper with harder-to-quantify metrics and data. Among hundreds of millions who say they are influencers, whether it’s someone with 10 or 10 million followers, Influential helps us identify 100 who share traits with us: open-minded, artistically inclined. Watson takes all of this data and distills it down to something usable for me, as a marketer.

Q: What’s the Optima game after the Super Bowl?

A: The Optima campaign will run through March, continuing with the [Super Bowl] spot, cut to a :30, and continue with the Cookie Cutter and Middle C spots. We’ll also add some other ads to get more product-focused. The we will support the Sportage (compact crossover) launch with an ad campaign in April.

Q: What about the NBA this year (Kia is official automotive partner)?

A: At the NBA All-Star game, coming up in two weeks, this is first year there will be a non-NBA partner-logo on jerseys. Ours will be on the upper left hand side of the jerseys of both East and West teams during the All-Stars.

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