We drove 100 miles to NJ this weekend, so did a lot of thinking about auto marketing. One of the most brilliant automotive campaigns of the past year has been Hyundai’s anti-brand bit — a series of TV and print ads launched Sept. 28 by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners that remove Hyundai entirely from the advertisements. Instead, the ads show clever copy and a tiny “H” logo, pointing consumers to the web site www.think-about-it.com.
Apparently Hyundai research found 50% of people tune out ads due to negative connotations, which is another way of saying that a lot of U.S. consumers suspect Hyundai makes crap cars. This is probably unfair — 30 years ago Americans used to think Toyota was a crap brand, then W. Edwards Deming taught Japan a thing or two about manufacturing quality, and now Ford and GM are still struggling to catch up.
So Hyundai’s response to our prejudice is brilliant: the TV and print ads avoid mentioning Hyundai all together, and instead challenge the very notion of a brand. Eight 15-second spots and print ads in business/lifestyle mags push consumers to think of Hyundai in a new way, by teasing with thoughts such as “The logo is there to tell you what the car is … not who you are.” Ouch. You can feel the BMW-coveting VW Passat owners who have been debating on settling for a Mini Cooper in their next purchase because they really can’t afford the Beamer suddenly wincing on their couches, realizing, damn, we’ve all been had. You just know that marketing brand consultants all across the U.S. are screaming at their televisions sets, “turn that blasphemy off NOW!” Score one for Hyundai, making us think it may actually be a quality brand. We feel a new “H” in our consideration set.
Points off, though, for the actual web site that catches responses. It’s risky enough using offline media to push consumers to a web response, and when we finally get to the www.think-about-it.com site, graphics take a full minute to load even with a cable modem. And then, rather than closing a deal or locking in a rung on our mental brand positioning ladder, Hyundai throws us into obscure mind-puzzlers such as counting how many marbles are in a jar for errant pedantry on “the wisdom of crowds.” Hyundai, what were your web strategists thinking? You had us at hello.