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Hyundai — A Lesson in Appropriate Big Ad Spend

It’s a well-worn path to comment on the most innovative, captivating, funniest Super Bowl advertisements each year, so I apologize in advance for not only being late with my perspective but potentially redundant as well. I thought this year’s Super Bowl had some innovative ads and, as usual, some real bone-headed ones too. (I can’t resist. Audi did a commercial with vampires promoting their headlights??? Seriously!?!? You want me to plunk down $42,000 because it’s got nice headlights? And you want to use the Twilight characters to motivate me? Morons.)

Hyundai, as the title of this blog post implies, gets my gold star for the most impactful advertising effort of the night. Hyundai sponsored the pregame kickoff show and was the only car manufacturer to sponsor whole damn game (Kraft Macaroni & Cheese and McDonald’s were the other two sponsors). So before the game started, before you tuned in and sat on the edge of your seat for the best commercials of the year, Hyundai got there first. Nearly a dozen different automakers paid $3.5 million for 30 seconds of ad time to reach over 110 million people. Hyundai most assuredly paid as much or more than any of the automakers. Most companies relied on a great concept to stand out in a crowd of big names, and many achieved that goal. Hell, I got goose bumps when Clint Eastwood performed a monologue for Chrysler that I’m pretty sure Aaron Sorkin wrote.

But to me, the real “damn, that was smart” goes to Hyundai, whose biggest obstacle to success thus far has been the perception of the quality of their cars and their general appeal to the U.S. market. That trend’s been shifting in their favor for a few years now but at a relatively slow pace. They suffer from the Arrested Development Syndrome (ADS) — critics love it but the average Joe doesn’t tune in/buy it.

In the past, Hyundai’s had to settle with the broke junior-college student and exotic-dancer demographic to purchase their cars, mostly out of necessity. They’re broke, and Hyundais are inexpensive. However, a leading consumer magazine (everyone knows that means Consumer Reports, right?) has included Hyundai in the top performers of nearly all the categories they’ve competed in for the last several years — right up there with Honda, Toyota, Volkswagen, etc. They went so far as to say that the $45,000 Genesis competes well with the Lexus 460 ($68,000 base) and the BMW 740 ($71,000 base).

In fact, South Korea’s automotive industry has been on a steady march toward recognition as a damn fine outfit for the last five years. But still, it’s been plagued by ADS. So Hyundai’s objective is to get the American auto buyer to associate their cars with top-tier mainstream automobiles.

Hyundai took a big step in that direction Sunday night, not with the most memorable ads (though they were good). And not because they had Jeff Bridges doing the narration (though he was in Tucker, which was also good). They achieved this goal because they presented themselves in the same magnitude and manner (read: spent as much or more) as Audi, Cadillac, Honda and Acura. People saw the Hyundai brand right next to the brands they already associate with quality, luxury, status, smart decisions, etc. That’s important because Hyundai, being only the sixth-largest auto exporter in the world, spent disproportionately more on advertising when compared with companies like GM, Honda or even Chrysler.

So yes, Hyundai spent a metric shit-ton on their Super Bowl ads. Wanna bet their test drives increase over the next three to six months? Wanna bet they do so at an increased rate compared with the other carmakers that advertised on Sunday?

What’s the lesson? If you want to compete with the big boys and girls, act like the big boys and girls.

Tune in tomorrow when we identify grown-up advertising behavior.