Campaign Trail: Why Hyundai revived a recession-era program for today’s crisis

Linda J. Dodson

Campaign Trail is our analysis of some of the best and worst new creative efforts from the marketing world. View past columns in the archives here.

Hyundai and its agency of record Innocean USA had four options earlier this spring as the COVID-19 illness spread around the world: stick with their prepared campaign, ditch it entirely and go quiet, whip up a new slate of assets remotely or create something fresh from archival footage. They chose the last option, looking to Hyundai’s past success story around financial aid as a beacon for what’s previously worked amid economic downturn.

Like most car brands, Hyundai plans its marketing campaigns around a cyclical schedule. Seasonal sales events and new model launches are typically ironed out months or years in advance, based on supply chains and consumers’ tendencies to purchase vehicles during certain calendar moments. But now, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing marketers in the space to scramble together new strategies that fit the current environment and align with buyers’ mindsets.

The team scrapped the carmaker’s spring sales promotion in March and pivoted to highlight Hyundai’s recession-era Assurance Job Loss Protection program that covers payments for folks who bought or leased a car and lost their job during a certain timeframe. Hyundai introduced the program to the world in a 2009 Super Bowl ad and saw the brand reach its highest U.S. market share by mid-year.

The carmaker is reviving the financial relief program during the current health crisis to subtly remind consumers of the benefits of owning a Hyundai vehicle, showing how the brand aims to look out for owners, according to Innocean’s creative team in emailed responses to Marketing Dive’s questions.

Message over creative

The replacement “Unpredictable” spot by Innocean plays up the importance of family, “especially in uncertain times,” the 30-second ad says via sunny voiceover with clips of smiling folks driving or playing outside. While the creative itself isn’t visually dazzling or envelope-pushing, the message behind it is designed to inform and reassure people — not entertain — during a crisis. The optimistic, family-oriented ad emphasizes togetherness and hope that the world will get through this tough time, when car factories have paused production to quell the illness’ spread. Striking the appropriate tone is especially critical for marketers now, as consumers could be turned off by messaging they perceive as tactless or flippant amid a public health emergency.

“The tone and message needed to be sensitive, thoughtful and compassionate,” according to an email from Innocean. “We wanted to make sure we struck the right message for Hyundai owners, making sure they knew Hyundai genuinely had their backs, and was not using the pandemic as a way to promote [its] products.”

Rather than pushing a more traditional sales message in the spot, Hyundai likely boosted its ad’s success by touching on subjects like stability and safety while directly addressing the financial strain placed on many families. Brands across industries have shown that now is the time to connect with consumers on a more emotional, relatable level, signaling how marketers can still deploy purpose-led creative during what’s forecast to be a decline in the car industry, and a time when many brands will likely opt out of marketing entirely to play it safe.​ Hyundai’s “Unpredictable” spot ranked No. 2 after Ford in a recent Realeyes study that assessed viewers’ emotional engagement and attentiveness.

Paired purpose

The campaign, which airs on national and local broadcast TV and across digital and social channels, pairs nicely with another purpose-driven effort from Hyundai’s nonprofit arm, Hyundai Hope On Wheels. That initiative, launched just days after the carmaker pivoted to the “Unpredictable” spot, promises to donate $2 million for COVID-19 drive-thru testing centers in partnership with 10 children’s hospital across the country. The nonprofit arm kicked off in 1998, and now revived, its latest push is being publicized on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to drum up buzz around how Hope on Wheels is supporting Hyundai owners and general consumers during trying times.

Hyundai launched a separate purpose-based video from Circle One Productions expressing how some challenges surrounding the pandemic can be eased by people’s collective compliance with social distancing guidelines.

By refreshing archival footage and reviving older financial relief programs that succeeded in past crises, Hyundai can use those assets and insights to revamp them to fit the current moment — a cost-effective move that allows the car marketer to pivot quickly.

With the creative team working from home, Innocean and Hyundai focused on efficiency and over-communication via video conferencing services like Zoom, they shared with Marketing Dive via email.

Rivals like Ford and Subaru have similarly shifted gears in their spring campaigns to spotlight respective financial relief programs and monetary donations to combat COVID-19. In trying times like now, Hyundai and fellow car brands are taking a proactive approach with their marketing and adopting reassuring creative to consumers, who might welcome the financial support and uplifting message.

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