Kia Hamster Ads
The Success of the Kia Soul Ad Campaign Abstract In the current post-2008 recovering economic climate, marketing budgets are tight, and now, more than ever, it is vital that advertising is effective and able to justify the investment required. This paper explores the recent Kia Soul hamster commercial series, and analyzes why they work: what elements of appeal, target market, and defining attributes have ensured their success.
By anticipating trends, focusing on a specific demographic, researching what appeals to that group and using the right tools to send the message, companies will be able to create ads that are unforgettable and extremely convincing. Imagine that you have transformed into a hamster, and are getting ready to go to work. You climb into your run-of-the-mill cage and then prepare to sit in traffic along with other hamsters literally spinning in place. Sighing, you wish for an intervention to alleviate the boredom and frustration of waiting with everyone else in the day-to-day race that defines your job commute.
Lo and behold, along comes a small boxy car with a few ‘hip’ hamsters riding with the windows open. They pull up next to you, one nods knowingly, and the light changes. Left behind in the dust, you watch as they speed ahead in the new Kia Soul. They are having a great time, listening to rap on an MP3 player, tapping their claws in time to the music. Then you see the car again, along with local dealer incentives. This scenario is not a dream, but one in a series of television advertisements featuring the Kia Soul. Why does it work?
Why does it garner so much attention? In a recent Internet search, the phrase “Kia hamster commercial” generated more than two million results in 0. 66 seconds (Google, 2010). In today’s economic climate, marketing budgets are tight, and now, more than ever, it is vital that advertising is effective and able to justify the investment required. Two critical factors associated with successful advertising are persuasion and impact. These characteristics drive the most compelling ads as well as the most persuasive (Brown, 2010).
Experts have long recognized that memorable advertising aids sales. In addition, a lasting impression is reliant on creativity. The most impactful ads are those that stimulate the emotions – ads that communicate in a meaningful way, contain humor, and use catchy melodies or jingles. The correlation of music to inspiring feeling has been known for centuries. In the Kia ads, upbeat songs by the Black Sheep play throughout the commercials. “Seriously, this commercial cracks me up…I love the absurdity of three hamsters getting ‘gangster’ in their Kia. Look] at the genius of this spot with the hamster in the backseat, [moving] his head from side to side, tapping his paw to the dance beat while a light in the car door flashes in time. Not even RuPaul has this much self-confidence” (Blankenship, 2010). Thus, the commercial is amusing because it is so disproportionate, and yet at the same time, it points to the day-to-day perceived drudgery that most middle-class Americans (the majority of the population) face going to and from work. “Hamsters are little animals.
We dominate them so completely that we build their worlds for them, shooing them through mazes of plastic tubes and then clapping when they run. Therefore, seeing a hamster behave like a ‘badass’ is so audacious that it is funny” (Blankenship, 2010). The ad works because of the humor element, cute animals and an in-your-face alternative to a boring, typical middle-class lifestyle. According to industry insiders, animals and humor are two of the most successful ad ‘hooks’ (Brown, 2010).
In this commercial, the Kia Soul is the only vehicle in the world that does not “breed rodent-in-a-wheel conformity” (Anonymous, 2010). “Those hamster wheels we see on the road could be Mercedes, BMW’s, Audi’s, or whatever. The point is, they are not Kia’s, so by this ad’s standards, those cars are lame. Again, you have to admire a car company that refuses to accept the less-than-ferocious image the public imposes on it” (Blankenship, 2010). According to Trendhunter, the ad appeals to a young, middle-class American who is unable to afford a luxury car, but can budget for a Kia Soul that starts at under $14,000.
The viewers may realize that they are not driving a luxury vehicle, but this ad encourages them not to care. In other words, the ad pushes for a perceptual shift in which “little guys” like hamsters, Kia’s, and the middle class “embrace their ability to be awesome. If you drive a Kia Soul, the commercial tells us, then you know yourself, love yourself, and get down with yourself” (Anonymous, 2010). If consumers buy the message, then Kia’s sales could explode. Middle class affordability could be “hipper than ever” (Anonymous, 010). So far, the ad series seems to be working: sales of Kia’s in general are up from 2009, and the Kia Soul is doing “spectacularly well” in its target market (Anonymous, 2010). Building on the momentum fueled by the original commercial, Kia released another ad in the series, with the hamsters rapping to the Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours” and comparing the affordable Kia Soul to modes of fabricated transportation others devised in an effort to save money, but that do not work (Google, 2010).
Appealing to the urban young professional, just striking out on his or her own with a tight budget and limited time, the choice of music and styling “strikes fond memories of the good days – the way things used to be – with an old-school song choice which is a powerful catalyst, endearing the viewer to the ad content” (Brown, 2010). In addition, Kia’s reputation also assists in selling the vehicle, having won distinguished awards from Motor Trend Magazine for their cars’ reliability (Anonymous, 2010).
The commercials have been so successful that in March 2010, Nielsen Automotive Advertising Awards named them the “Automotive Ads of the Year” in conjunction with the New York International Auto Show (Smith, 2010). The ads appear throughout the Internet on social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and are wildly popular not just in America, but the world over (Anonymous, 2010). “Truly effective advertising starts with a great creative idea.
When you combine that idea with a memorable and unique hook that grabs viewers’ attention, you are going to get the results that we saw from Kia this year” (Miller, 2010). The impact of an ad alone is not sufficient, however; the associations generated by the advertising need to be linked to the brand. Ads containing established branding devices, existing slogans or distinctive creative styles are more likely to be remembered (Brown, 2010). Thus, ads that provoke an immediate interest in trial are also more likely to produce sales, but such persuasion tends to require strong product news (Anonymous, 2010).
The majority of the most convincing ads communicate rational news, featuring new items or variants on existing ones. These ads tend to focus closely on the brand, with the use of voice-overs, showing the product and demonstrations of it in use (Brown, 2010). The Kia commercials aptly use all of these elements to their advantage, with much success. Therefore, as the sensation of the Kia Soul hamster commercials shows, advertisers must appeal to today’s savvy consumers who know the value of a hard-earned dollar nd the advantage of market competition. A television ad’s hold on its prospective audience is not as captive as it once was; viewers know that they can turn the channel, record the program, and gather information elsewhere at their convenience, in a multitude of ways. Therefore, by anticipating trends, focusing on a specific target, researching what appeals to that group and using innovative, yet proven, elements to send their message, companies will be able to achieve the tough task of producing an ad that is both memorable and highly persuasive.