Kia Motors America doesn’t have a major vehicle launch this year, but in the world of auto marketing there is no such thing as coasting or taking a pit stop. So in a non-launch year, Kia is staying busy juggling a lot of digital programs as well as television advertising and partnerships to keep consumers’ eyes on the brand, and Millennials considering vehicles like Soul and Rio. The automaker will also be launching a raft of new ads for the Sorento SUV in coming weeks.
The fact that Kia, which has been in the Super Bowl for three years, used the platform this time around to talk about the Kia Optima in ads that featured Motley Crue, a Victoria’s Secret supermodel and mixed martial arts kingpin Chuck Liddell says a lot about the brand’s overall creative tone and strategy. Michael Sprague, Kia Motors America VP of marketing, says that although the company wants to keep the brand top of mind among Millennials, the offbeat, humorous creative motif is less about reaching an age-defined group than positioning the brand favorably with people of all ages with an attitude that appreciates levity and a bit of fun.
“Since we use TV to build awareness for the brand and drive consumers to Kia.com, our approach and our marketing communications are directed toward positioning ourselves as that cool, fun brand that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” he says. “The Optima is a beautiful vehicle, and we had fun with it. With that Super Bowl ad we saw buyers from 23 years old up to 80.”
Even when the automaker does ads (via AOR DavidAndGoliath) featuring sports stars and Kia spokespeople LPGA star Michelle Wie and NBA All-Star Blake Griffin, there’s an offbeat humor involving weird juxtapositions: a new spot with Wie touting Soul has the golfer shooting skeet in Scotland with a driver and a golf ball instead of the traditional shotgun.
Kia is “Official Vehicle of the Vans Warped Tour” for the fifth year in a partnership that puts its vehicles and the “Kia Soul Lounge” at each stop. Kia this year did a partnership with Fox Digital’s “Wolfpack of Reseda” that ran over eight weeks on MySpace with a new episode, ranging in length from 8 to 12 minutes, released each Thursday online. The company has also launched a partnership with Spotify, with the “Kia Rio Best Songs To Play With Your Windows Down” playlist where users can contribute a song to create a playlist via Spotify or the Rio Playlist tab on the Rio Facebook page.
Sprague says despite all the digital activity, TV still plays a big part of the company’s strategy. “Consumers don’t buy vehicles on the spur of the moment. Most take six to nine months to start thinking about which vehicle they want. So TV is critical as an awareness-builder for us,” he says. “We are still only 4% of the [U.S. auto] market, and there are still a lot of people who don’t really know who we are or what we stand for.”
Sprague says that TV is also a vehicle for driving more content-driven interactions online. “When we did the Super Bowl spot, we tracked by the minute what was happening on Kia.com. When a competitor’s ad came on, we saw a spike on our site. When our spot aired we saw a huge lift in traffic at Kia.com. And we were in [NBC’s] ‘The Voice’ later on that night, as we have a partnership with them and aired a 60-second spot, and we saw another huge spike.”
He says the forthcoming Sorento campaign will be very product-focused. “We haven’t done much with Sorento since launching Optima over a year ago, and we feel we needed to bring Sorento back into the mix.”
“So this is our brand-building year,” he says. “We will focus on our core models, continue to define what the brand stands for, and look at what went right and wrong over last three years in which we have launched nine new products. And we will focus on planning for 2013, which will be a very big year for us.”