Super Bowl

Making Sense of Kia’s Curious Super Bowl Ad

20 Feb 2019  

Over the past two weeks I’ve been talking a lot about the Super Bowl ads. I hosted a webinar with my colleague Derek Rucker, did television interviews on NBC, ABC, and Fox, and talked with radio stations from San Diego to Memphis to Boston.

As I’ve considered the ads, I’ve become more and more interested in Kia’s most unusual spot for its new large SUV, the Telluride.

Kia’s Ad

The spot, as you might remember, focuses on a small, often over-looked Georgia town. It begins with a child’s voice explaining, “We are not famous. There are no stars in the sidewalk for us, no statues in our honor. We’re just a small Georgia town of complete unknowns…. Our movie stardom, our football careers, they never took off.”

You can watch it here.

The ad features scenes of a decaying rural mill town, then continues, “We are not known for who we are. We hope to be known for what we do. What we build. This thing we’ve assembled, it has chance to be remembered. No we are not famous, but we are incredible, and we make incredible things.” The visuals shift to Kia’s new Telluride SUV, then it closes with the line: “Give it everything.”

An Unusual Spot

On first glance, the ad seems unusual, dark, even somewhat condescending. The spot makes a big deal of the fact that the town is full of unknowns, people who haven’t achieved their dreams.

How is this going to sell cars?

The Insight

The more I consider the ad, however, the more I think Kia is tapping into an important insight, one that is at the core of our country’s challenges. There are two notable groups in the United States- the achievers and the mainstreamers. The achievers have good jobs and have done well. Over the past decade, their incomes have risen. They are, as Peggy Noonan observed in a Wall Street Journal editorial, the protected.

Most people aren’t in this group; they are mainstream individuals who haven’t seen this sort of progress. The economic boom has largely passed them by; incomes have stagnated even as inflation continues. They don’t win awards, go to benefit galas, or drive Teslas. They know this, and they also know that they are honest, hard-working people trying to raise a family in a tough time.

Sadly, the achievers tend to look down on the mainstream people, and the mainstream people can’t relate to the achievers. This disconnect partly explains why Donald Trump won and why the outcome surprised so many people.

Kia is tapping right into this insight with its Telluride spot. The ad speaks to the mainstream, in a tone that is empathetic and true. The core message: working people, the people who build the Telluride down in Georgia, are incredible. And they build an amazing car.

Kia knows the achievers aren’t likely to buy a Kia. So they don’t talk to them. Instead, Kia reaches mainstream people with a message that resonates.

Achievers likely don’t understand the message, but many mainstream people do. I was in Nashville last week doing a program for a group of roofing contractors, and showed them the spot. They completely understood the message. In the USA Today Ad Bowl, a bit of a popularity contest, people with lower incomes liked the ad more than people with higher incomes.

Great marketing comes from targeting and finding customer insights, and Kia’s Super Bowl ad does both.

4 Responses

  1. Estie says:

    I sent your e-mail to friends and family.
    Here’s the response from our friends….

    Jorge and I watched the add and were so dismayed by it. it basically says you’re only worth is what you do or make for a living. But we are “achievers” so clearly, this ad isn’t targeting us and the message isn’t meant for us. It’s stunning to me and Jorge that this ad resonated with the roofing contractors and the “mainstream”. Kia definitely knows its audience.

    More importantly, we need to understand this group. They are the folks who elected Trump. If we don’t want to wind up with another 4 years of Trump, we need to find out what issues and messages appeal to them and then, as Democrats, shout those messages from the rooftops. Or truck tops.

    my two cents.


  2. emita Hill says:

    Interesting ad and great explication, Tim.

  3. I agree with the premise that achievers are unlikely to buy a Kia, which is why I don’t get is the choice of the name “Telluride”. Telluride is best known as a luxury ski resort town in Colorado where the median home price is north of $900k. Not exactly the kind of place that resonates with mainstreamers.

  4. davetuchler says:

    Agree – thought it was a good spot. They thankfully didn’t patronize or forget the product (If I remember correctly, some great product shots). Jack Daniel’s has done a similar spot and Kioti has a sort of similar spot now – – ‘we aren’t about the glamour; we’re comfortable with the dirt’ or something like that. As audiences increasingly polarize, there’s greater opportunity to take a position that may not have been previously possible.

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