Marketer of the Year

Who would be your vote for marketer of the year? Well, according to a recent survey by AdAge, there was one clear winner – auto manufacturer Hyundai. So, why Hyundai?

Earlier in the year, at a time when the economy was hitting the depths of doom, gloom and despair, most advertisers were trying to cheer us up with promises of happiness and escapism. Not so, a certain South Korea-based car manufacturer.

Instead, the message from Hyundai was “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.”

This message acknowledged the concerns felt by many consumers and really struck a chord – so much so that, when asked, 40% of AdAge readers selected Hyundai as their top marketer of 2009.

In an industry that has had a notoriously difficult year, many auto competitors slashed their budgets. Yet Hyundai went from strength to strength, with sales and market share increasing and its brand image receiving a real boost.

U.S. market share in fact jumped to 4.3% in the first ten months of 2009, which compares favorably to 3.1% in the same period of 2008. Indeed, when, in September, the U.S. automobile industry overall suffered a 22% sales drop, Hyundai actually increased its new vehicle tally by 27%.

Originally entering the U.S market in 1986 with small, affordable models, early success was followed by a mixture of highs and lows. But the introduction of their Hyundai Assurance program at the start of this year, allowing buyers or lessees to return their new vehicles for up to a year if they lost their jobs – as well as the ‘Gas Assurance’ program the company rolled out over the summer to cap its customers’ gasoline costs at $1.49 a gallon – has heralded the start of a period of marked success.

According to a post-Super Bowl survey in February of this year, 43% of respondents watching the Hyundai Super Bowl adverts said their opinion of the brand had improved. The adverts, combined with positive press concerning the Assurance program, meant that consideration for new Hyundai vehicles jumped to 59% in the first two months of the year. Despite the recession, June 2009 marked Hyundai’s best monthly sales tally ever, and in the same month the brand ranked fourth in J.D. Power and Associates’ annual Initial Quality Survey in which consumers rate their new vehicles at 90 days of ownership; in 2008, Hyundai had ranked thirteenth in the same survey.

All of this goes to show that brands can triumph in the face of adversity. Times have been tough but Hyundai did not slash its marketing budget. Nor did it slash it prices, change its fundamental brand messages, or adopt some other knee-jerk reaction to the recession which could easily have undone all the work it had put in to building its brand values over the course of 20 years or more. Instead, it listened to and even anticipated the concerns of its target market, seeking to reassure customers that Hyundai continued to offer a quality product but adding value by offering extra guarantees and assurances. Of course other car manufacturers have since followed suit, but Hyundai has certainly benefited from being quick off the mark.

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