While watching TV last night (for professional research, you understand) I happened across two fascinating commercials.  Both were for cars.

One features human-sized hamsters performing a rap video.  Hamsters strutting about in hip-hop clothing perform Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours” while rolling around proudly in their new ride, a Kia Soul, which they show off in apposition to the decidedly inferior vehicles of rival hamsters.  The ad is remarkably well produced – it’s difficult to tell if the hamsters are computer-generated, people in suits, or a mix of both – and hilariously funny.

The other ad was for the Hyundai Elantra, and is the precise opposite.  It is a much more typical car ad, with the Elantra gliding down darkened city streets and a calm, sophisticated voice-over extolling the Elantra’s many virtues.

What’s striking about the ads is that, of course, it’s the same company; Kia is a division of Hyundai.  More striking still is that the cars are not really all that different; both are economy models.  So why the difference in approach?

Much can be attributed to the public’s impression of brand.  Hyundai was once considered little more than “cheap.”  Eventually, though better quality and generous warranties, Hyundais came to be known for being reliable.  Now, with more models, Hyundai wants you to think of their cars as “Reliable and actually pretty nice.”  With the brand already perceived as reliable, it’s not too large a step to ask people to believe that the reliable car can also be fashionable.  Kia, Hyundai’s even-more-budget conscious division, is still working with a brand largely perceived as cheap, and of course selling their reliability would just make them more Hyundais.  So their advertising makes an effort to move from the perception of “cheap” to the perception of “fun” – again, a logical step that isn’t too far for a person to accept.

In attempting to change perception of a brand, care has to be taken to ensure the leap isn’t too great. Brand impression can be changed, but too radical a change at once will generate confusion.  Hyundai’s doing it right.

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