The Super Bowl is full of challenges. The Steelers have to establish a running game. The Cardinals have to find a way to move the ball against Pittsburgh’s tough defense. Kurt Warner has to connect with his trio of talented receivers.
Perhaps the greatest challenge, however, awaits Hyundai. The Korean automaker is attempting to convince people that Hyundai’s new Genesis sub-brand is a credible competitor to BMW, Mercedes and Lexus. This is a daunting task. Hyundai ran two commercials on the 2008 Super Bowl to support this effort, and Hyundai is back again in 2009. The challenge remains.
Brands are incredibly powerful, in part because they shape our perceptions. A nice piece of jewelry becomes very special when it carries the Tiffany brand. The same item loses much of its value when it is branded Wal-Mart.
Hyundai’s problem is that the Hyundai brand has a low-quality perception. While the brand has improved in recent years, in part due to Hyundai’s long warranty, I suspect that few people think “luxury” and “top quality” when they think Hyundai. People might think “value” and “reliability.” But “luxury?” No.
The good news is that the Genesis is apparently quite a good product. Indeed, at the recent Detroit Auto Show the Hyundai Genesis was named the “North American Car of the Year.” On a product basis, the Genesis might be a real competitor for Lexus and the other high-end brands.
Still, the only way the Hyundai Genesis will succeed is if the company is successful at changing the perceptions of the Hyundai brand. As car site Edmunds.com noted, “With badges removed, the Genesis could easily pass as a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz, although we doubt many brand-conscious folks would give a Hyundai a second glance.” With Hyundai’s current brand perceptions, it is very unlikely that the Genesis will be seen as credible luxury car, regardless of the actual product.
And this is Hyundai’s Super Bowl challenge: get people to view Hyundai as a viable player in the high-end auto market.
The Super Bowl is a wonderful venue for this sort of effort, because it gives Hyundai a chance to reach everyone and command attention. The lack of automobile ads on the Super Bowl this year means that Hyundai will stand out even more than usual. Hyundai is making a wise tactical choice.
Can Hyundai do it? I doubt it. For the brand repositioning to work it will take a very long time and many more Super Bowl spots in the years to come.
If Hyundai wants to credibly play in the luxury space, it should follow the lead of Toyota, Honda and Nissan and create a new and distinct high-end brand.