Hyundai Marketer of the Year

Consider the state of affairs when viewers tuned into the Super Bowl in February: Banks had failed, a stimulus package still hadn’t been announced, and unemployment was surging toward 8%, up from 4.8% the year before. Escapism was the order of the day, and most advertisers played right along, with brands like Coke and Pepsi offering saccharine happy-happy joy-joy visions that jarred with the bleak reality.

There was one advertiser, however, that didn’t.

In the third quarter, in an otherwise standard-issue cars-rolling-through-landscape spot, a voice-over brought into the light of day something that ranks up there with death and erectile dysfunction as something people don’t want to talk about. “Now finance or lease any new Hyundai, and if you lose your income in the next year, you can return it with no impact on your credit.”

With that bold stroke, Hyundai — yes, Hyundai — an automaker not historically known for fearless marketing, began in earnest a frontal assault on a recession that was not dampening consumer enthusiasm but drowning it. But while its Assurance Program received heavy support, it wasn’t the sole route of advance. Hyundai also took an upmarket route, with its very successful efforts to push the Genesis, its entry into the premium-car market that was also pushed during the Super Bowl as well as during the game’s female-skewing equivalent, the Academy Awards, where the carmaker bought an eye-popping nine spots.

Engaging with both the broken dreams and the intact ones through high-profile ad buys that garnered plenty of positive press was in sharp contrast to the tail-between-the-legs mode of Hyundai’s rivals, many of whom had slashed budgets and retreated into retail-focused advertising. An example of the opportunism: Those nine Oscar spots — purchased when GM, then on the verge of bankruptcy, bailed out of the show. For Hyundai, the overall results were clear: Sales and market share were up, and its brand image overhauled.

Hyundai’s market share jumped to 4.3% in the first ten months of 2009 from 3.1% in the same year-ago period. In September, while the industry overall suffered a 22% sales drop in a post-Cash for Clunkers hangover, Hyundai managed to increase its new-vehicle tally by 27% to 31,511 units.

Before the recession, people never would have been caught dead in a Hyundai and might have worried about what their neighbors would think are now are very comfortable because the brand has been elevated.

Americans were apparently so wowed by the ads and press exposure of the Assurance program that consideration for new Hyundai vehicles jumped to 59% in the first two months of the year, CNW Marketing Research found.