Hyundai: Humble and Hungry

Don Sherman
Phil Wheeler

Sharing the glories of Hyundai's work ethic and engineering speed in ways that customers can understand is Chris Perry's job as the company's new vice president of marketing. During the past three years, Perry and his friend for twenty-five years, Joel Ewanick, were the Joe Montana and Jerry Rice of the car marketing world. That is, until Ewanick left Hyundai last March for Nissan before being recruited a few weeks later by GM. Perry was promoted to the marketing vice president's job in May.

Hyundai's strategy for shining its light brightly is what Perry calls "big voices in big places." "What it takes to slice through the advertising clutter is a lot of trust from upper management," he explains. "I enjoy a near carte blanche in making decisions related to how and where we present Hyundai to our customers.

"While some Korean managers have struggled with American culture and marketing, my current boss understands what we're trying to do. At the 2008 Olympics, when Michael Phelps was going for his eighth gold medal, an advertising slot right after his race suddenly opened up. On a Thursday, I suggested that we should seize the opportunity. Gaining consensus took ten minutes, and our ad ran the following Sunday. This is an excellent example of Hyundai Speed.

"To help customer perception catch up with the reality of the product improvements we've achieved, we've been the largest Academy Awards advertiser the last two years. When GM gave up that position, we made the decision in seven days to take their place. We get three or four executives in a room, make up our minds, and move forward.

"Last year, when the Genesis won the North American Car of the Year award, we couldn't wait to deliver that news to Super Bowl viewers. Jeff Goodby, then the head of our advertising agency, noted that many folks -- including some journalists -- didn't know how to correctly pronounce our name. Over a cup of coffee, a few of us scratched out his concept for a message that would address that. Krafcik and others here loved the idea, so it was approved for production. Goodby shot and directed the commercial, and three weeks later it ran during the Super Bowl. We exercised creative license with our competitors in Tokyo and Munich, and all of them took it in stride. That whole project was completed in roughly one-third the amount of time usually required."

Hyundai has also demonstrated an uncanny ability to make lemonade out of the lemons that blossomed during the recent recession. "Our Hyundai Assurance initiative was well received by buyers fearing loss of employment. But others see it as peace of mind, so we've expanded that program to include roadside assistance, the best warranty, and top Initial Quality scores. Eventually, we might even drop the job-loss provision, because Assurance has evolved into strong Hyundai brand credibility and growing confidence in our products."

The word assurance does have a warm and fuzzy ring, so Hyundai is wise to keep it as part of its lexicon. But, considering the solid foundation that Juriga, Krafcik, Perry, and hundreds of other hard-working Hyundai people have laid, another word near and dear to this organization deserves its day in the sun. We'd love to see a hot sports car join today's family of coupes, sedans, and crossovers. Toward that end, here's our suggestion for what to call that new model: Hyundai Speed.

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