Hyundai CMO Dean Evans on its All-American NFL Sponsorship

Posted on by Evan Vladem

This is the second edition in a series of Q&A’s with leading marketers about their sports marketing initiatives.

Last year, Hyundai won the Super Bowl advertising battle with its Kevin Hart “First Date” commercial, which ran during the game. After collecting the top spot in the USA Today Ad Meter, the Korean-based automotive manufacturer, wondered how it could outdo a first-place ad.

Hyundai CMO Dean Evans even contemplated sitting out of the game this year (a thought that came and went quickly). Touting an official deal with the NFL, and numerous assets on-site at its disposal, Hyundai came up with a creative solution—run its ad directly after the game (sitting out of Ad Meter contention)—but still cutting through with a real-time, docu-style spot produced by renowned Hollywood director Peter Berg.

Hyundai leveraged its support of U.S. troops and transported several soldiers from a base overseas to custom, 360-degree immersive pods to give them a feeling of being in a suite at NRG Stadium during Super Bowl LI. The emotional kicker came when the soldier’s families virtually appeared next to them.

In addition to the commercial, Hyundai and its luxury line—Genesis—activated on-site in Houston at the ticketed NFL Experience and Super Bowl Live, a free, nine-day fan festival.

Evan Vladem, a sports marketing and sponsorship expert at rEvolution, sat down with Hyundai Evans, to discuss the groundbreaking commercial, on-site activation and strategy of Hyundai’s NFL deal.

Dean Evans
Hyundai CMO Dean Evans

VLADEM: This was your second year as an official NFL partner. What were some of the biggest changes going into the 2016-17 season from an on-site activation standpoint?

EVANS: There probably hasn’t been a lot of changes with how we approached year one and year two. We’re still activating the same pieces. We’ve gotten better at the traffic and how we drive traffic. How do you get people to take photos and share them? How can we improve social media on-site? There has been improvement and optimization but having Hyundai outside and having Genesis inside (at the premium and ticketed NFL Experience) has stayed pretty similar.

VLADEM: Although your onsite activations may have been similar, your commercial around the Super Bowl was obviously a completely different approach. Can you explain that strategy?

EVANS: As mentioned, last year we won best ad by the USA Today Ad Meter. It was all about how we can win again without being in the Ad Meter (because the slot was purchased after the final whistle). That’s how this plan came about.

VLADEM: How did you decided upon a real-time, documentary style commercial?

EVANS: My first response was, ‘Let’s not go back to the game. Let’s live in first place for two years.’ That lasted about a week and [other executives] said, ‘Dean, we can’t really sit out. We really have to step the game up.’

We’re blessed to have a good creative team behind us. We spent the first half of the year really asking how we could really approach it differently. How can we really get people still engaged with the brand and do it a little differently? That’s the formula that we used this year.

VLADEM: Why did you purchase the slot after the final whistle?

EVANS: It was strategic. I didn’t want to be in Ad Meter this year but I still wanted to be in the game. With that, there’s an upfront position or where we did it in the back. Those are your two options. We liked the back because we recognized that the Super Bowl was a little different [than a typical game]. Viewers really don’t drop off. There’s still a 90% viewership between the end game and the trophy ceremony. We still thought there was a lot of viability to be in that spot. It also gave us the most time possible to film in the first quarter, edit in the second quarter, submit and get approvals during halftime and hopefully sit back in the seats, calm, in the third quarter so we can roll it in stadium in the fourth quarter and have the spot really run [postgame].

VLADEM: Hyundai has been a longtime supporter of U.S. troops. Why was it so important for you to give back to the soldiers?

Hyundai Super Bowl
Understanding the political climate today in the United States and understanding where people’s heads are, I thought it was a good time to take a bow to our military.

EVANS: I’m a big believer that if you’re going to be a Tour de Force brand in the marketplace today, you can’t just sell someone something anymore. You have to be doing something. It’s even bigger than social-corporate responsibility. I’m not talking about just giving away money all of the time; it’s about how you are really helping people. That’s how we wanted to come to the Super Bowl. It was a real brand move. We wanted to be bigger than having a car and a joke [in our ad]. That’s where the idea came from.

Understanding the political climate today in the United States and understanding where people’s heads are, I thought it was a good time to take a bow to our military. We believe that we wouldn’t have this game, we wouldn’t have this independence if we didn’t have that military out front protecting us today. We wanted to really make sure we don’t let a moment go by, especially during a time like the Super Bowl without paying homage to that.

I think people will fall in love with us more. Patriotism. What could be a fractured country right now, we can agree that paying homage to this very important part of our government is important and necessary. We wanted to hit right in the heart and soul of that.

VLADEM: Many auto brands had spots in the Super Bowl. How much value does having an official relationship with the NFL bring to the table?

EVANS: We’re the only company that can use the word “Super Bowl.” Online, we’re going to drive a lot more high-quality, low-cost traffic to this because we can use Super Bowl and no one else can. There are pieces like that in the plan.

We can also use the logo and logo lockup … No one else can do that. We leverage as much as we can there. We also realize that with the amount of media you spend in the marketplace, it sometimes has a direct correlation into who consumers think the sponsor is. If you’re running three spots in one game and Toyota has 25 spots in one game, people may get confused. Frequency can get combined with who really is the sponsor. We try to break through that as much as we can. You can’t always do that with raw dollars.

VLADEM: What about the ability to activate onsite being an official NFL partner?

EVANS: It’s huge. There are a million people outside at Super Bowl Live. We expected about 250K-350 thousand inside at NFL Experience driven by Genesis. That’s almost 1.5 million people that you’re influencing in three days. You can at least get people to understand or see that Hyundai is potentially something they didn’t know we were. Hyundai having a luxury brand in Genesis is very new to a lot of people. We watch people and listen to people who didn’t realize Hyundai had a luxury vehicle. All of that is very valuable to us.

VLADEM: You also have deals with six individual NFL teams. On top of your NFL deal, why individual teams?

EVANS: We have to bring it to the people even more—it’s big for engagement and for consumers to come to regional dealers. We have the Minnesota Vikings and it’s really amazing how Minnesota Hyundai dealers really embrace that. They create sales contests around people going to the game, they give away tickets for test drives to get people into the stores. There’s a lot of engagement that you get when you’re a team sponsor that you’re not going to get if you’re just sponsoring the NFL at the corporate level. To us, that’s the legs on the stool that are necessary or you don’t have a platform.

VLADEM: Your initial goal of the NFL deal was to raise Hyundai awareness in the US. Has it worked?

EVANS: Make it Americana baby! [LAUGHTER] Right now it’s kind of important. Trump kind of wants you to be American. The point is, we do believe that becoming more American was important with the NFL. We were on that quest before this administration, but we think it’s even more important with this administration. With an NFL logo, there is nothing more American than that. When you put your logo next to that for a few years, it really helps. We survey customers and ask them how American they think the company is, do you feel like you’re buying an American brand? That number continues to go up, year after year, for us. I think it’s working.

Editor’s Note: Got a killer sponsorship or event campaign like this one from Hyundai? Enter it in the 2017 PRO Awards by March 17.

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