Joel Ewanick, the Fountain Valley, Calif. company's VP/marketing for the U.S., says the vital signs are strong--with January sales so far holding up to last January's. That may not mean much in more salubrious times, but when "flat" is the new "up," it's pretty good news.
The program--which allows buyers to return their new or leased Hyundai within 12 months without a big penalty if they lose their income or are disabled--is generating buzz online. Edmunds.com reported that Hyundai purchase intent increased 15% initially, remains 7% above normal since, and rose 31% last Sunday when the Hyundai Genesis was named North American Car of the Year at the Detroit auto show.
"Fourteen days in, we are happy with results on the showroom floor," says Ewanick. "And we can already see anecdotal and quantitative research that brand lift has been substantial. I have started getting emails, even at home."
Ewanick says Hyundai is expanding the program next month to an offer that lets customers return their vehicles after up to four years of ownership. Ads for Assurance are designed to drive traffic to the Web, but the automaker has also been building a national system of information kiosks in dealerships that delineate the Assurance program, other offers, and company news and product information. The touchscreen portal ("The Tube," in Hyundai parlance) was launched with the Genesis car last fall and is now in 300 of Hyundai's 800 U.S. dealerships.
If there's a short-term problem for the company, it's which message to trumpet during next month's Super Bowl, where Hyundai has at least two 30-second ad buys in the first half--meaning that the company must choose among touting the new Genesis Coupe, the Genesis sedan and its Automotive Car of the Year kudos, or the Assurance program. "We now have seven or eight commercials to choose from," Ewanick says.
One of the ads in consideration was directed by Jeff Goodby of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, the San Francisco-based agency that was Hyundai's AOR until the Global Marketing Group (GMG), controlled by Hyundai, took control of the account.
"There were stories that dealers did not like Goodby's work, but that was wrong," he says. "[Goodby] is one of my favorite people in the ad business, and dealers were very happy with the agency." He says the company consolidated with GMG because Hyundai is the agency's only client, and it allows a global ad strategy. "Our long-term goal is to establish an agency focused on Hyundai. It has been something we have been implementing all over the world to unify communications," he says, adding that the North American arm of GMG's U.S. unit may take a larger role in crafting global creative and communications strategy.
He also intimated that while the company had planned to use the Bowl to talk up the Genesis Coupe, at least one of the spots is likely to be for the Assurance program, because it also builds brand consideration. "It makes sense to do Assurance," he says.
The company is also considering making Genesis or its successor the first vehicle in a new luxury channel bearing a different marque.
Six years ago, the company was the 11th-largest manufacturer in the world. "Today, we are [No. 5]. If you have been in an organization that grows that fast, you can imagine the teething problems. It's a rocket ship ride that doesn't allow for bad times. There's a huge opportunity to take it to the next level."