Thoughts from Ciana

  • 10:27:44 am on February 25, 2009 | 7


    I saw an ad recently that caught my attention in the new Food Network magazine. While advertising is only one form of communication, I thought this ad was an interesting example of succinct and compelling evidenced-based communications.

    The ad features Hyundai’s first luxury car, the Hyundai Genesis (base price $33,000), and because most people don’t associate Hyundai’s brand with high-performance engineering or comfort, Hyundai takes a bold approach by positioning the Hyundai Genesis against Lexus, a brand synonymous with luxury automobiles. The headline reads: “Think about it. Isn’t it time someone did to Lexus what Lexus did to Mercedes?”

    Whether you think Hyundai versus Lexus is a ridiculous comparison or not is irrelevant. Hyundai proceeds to make aggressive claims against “the competition” as it attempts to leap categories into the high-end, luxury market.

    First of all, Hyundai doesn’t attempt to convey every feature and detail found in this new model. Its focus on performance and comfort make for succinct messages, which are steeped in proof points. Yes, this is an advertisement, but it’s a good reminder never to fill a page with dense copy. Make your point succinctly and powerfully. For example, here’s Hyundai’s message to customers who care about performance: “The Genesis will take you from zero to 60 in a head-spinning 5.7 seconds – and has more horsepower per liter than a Lexus GS 460.”

    Too often, we have a tendency to list everything for fear of leaving something out. If you want your message to stick, keep it simple. Concentrate on 1-2 points that deliver the greatest value to the customer.

    Next, Hyundai’s use of facts and proof points help make their claims more believable. When Hyundai describes the design engineering on the Genesis, it’s compelling: Gaps between body panels are tighter than those found on the standard-bearer for tight tolerances, the Lexus LS460” (which has a MSRP between $63,000 – $77,000!).

    When describing one of its features, Hyundai cleverly cites another high-end name in an attempt to link brands: “And the Genesis cabin is among the quietest and most spacious available. It’s equipped with a Lexicon® 7.1 discrete surround sound system (shared only with the Rolls Royce Phantom).”

    I hesitate to pick on high-tech companies, but ours is an industry with a propensity for meaningless jargon. If this were a technology ad, it might read something like this: “Witness the arrival of a groundbreaking new luxury automobile that delivers versatile performance and unprecedented comfort, driving future breakthroughs in next-generation luxury cars.” Yes, it’s over the top, but the point is that boastful claims without any proof points fall on deaf ears.

    With this, I am reminded of William Zinsser’s sage observations on writing: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular construction, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”

    So as ridiculous as comparing Hyundai to Lexus may seem (and despite my lingering issues of quality and reputation), Hyundai’s messages effectively piqued my interest which brought me to Hyundai’s website.

    What do you think? Are there shining (or shameful) examples of B2B or B2C messages that you’ve seen that further illustrate these points?

    Note: For the full ad, see the February/March 2009 issue of Food Network magazine, pg 62.



  • Nancy Weintraub 12:12 pm on February 25, 2009 | # | Reply

    Cindee, when we talked about this example, I was skeptical. I simply don’t associate Hyundai with luxury. My “perception” of Hyundai is low-cost, low-quality. I found an Edmunds review where the Genesis edges out the Lexus GS 350 by a cumulative score of 68.5 to 66.3. This helps, but Hyundai still has a long way to go to change the brand perception (hearts over minds). I may never think of Hyundai as a “luxury car”, but their facts and evidence appeals to the logical side of me.

  • Jeremy Barnish 7:48 pm on February 25, 2009 | # | Reply

    Buy Porsche? Aren’t you a real man?

    See no facts needed at all.

  • Les Lorenzo 8:13 pm on February 25, 2009 | # | Reply


    Nancy just hit the nail on the head. Hyundai is positioned in the market as low-cost, and low quality and they have had quality problems in the past, although now data shows that they are much improved. The point is that however good the Hyundai Genesis is, (and the car magazines say it’s pretty good) it carries the Hyundai brand. One who buys a Lexus is not buying just a car, one is buying an image that says: “Look at me, I’ve arrived”. The Hyundai says; “Look at me, I got this thing cheap”. But this has always been true, when one buys a car one buys image. If cars were bought on the issue of price performance, nobody would ever buy a BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus. Now Hyundai can reposition itself in the market but that would take years. Toyota and Nissan (then known as Datsun)did it, for when they were first introduced, Japanese cars had the image of being cheap and low quality. That space is now occupied by Korean cars. If Hyundai wants to truly compete with Lexus they would have to create a new brand, good old market segmentation 101. But Hyundai knows this and I think they are appealing to somebody who think the car will shout; “Look at me, this car is fantastic and I saved over $20K”. And considering the current state of the economy their timing was fortuitous. Their competition is not Lexus but rather Toyota, GM, etc. And speaking of Lexus, in Japan Toyota does not even bother with the Lexus name because their reputation and brand image are so strong.

  • Steve Huff 11:26 pm on February 25, 2009 | # | Reply

    Hi Cindee –

    As a Lexus owner ;^) I have a hard time believing that a Hyundai is in the same
    class. Have I actually gone to a showroom and looked at one? Are you kidding? ;^)
    It’s a Hyundai! Why would I? ;^) Yes, the low-cost reputation, as Les notes, in
    this economy may work to their advantage – but it’s still a Hyundai . . .

    And as Les also notes, “Datsun” went through this very same perception problem in
    the 1960s. Once my parents went into a showroom and saw how good the cars were
    compared to US cars, they bought one – yes, it was much cheaper, but the quality
    was obvious, in spite of the perception of “cheap”. Good bang for the buck . . .
    (By the by, you can now get a Lexus in Japan – happened a couple of years ago)

    Hyundai definitely has some good ad copy. But not good enough to get me to visit their
    web site, or go into their showroom. I think they’ll have to do the same as Toyota
    (Lexus), Honda (Acura) and Nissan (Infiniti): create a different brand that isn’t
    “cheap”. But that means spending a boatload of money on new showrooms, brochures, and
    sales reps – oops, there went the savings . . .

    And one last thought: does the world need yet another luxury car? BMW, MBenz, Acura,
    Infinity, Lexus, Audi, . . . But wait – it’s a cheap, uhh, inexpensive, luxury car –
    isn’t that an oxymoron? ;^)

  • Tom Henkel 9:29 am on March 3, 2009 | # | Reply

    Well, a couple points:

    1. Selective comparisons have been around for a long, long time. Hyundai isn’t really braving new ground there. The real issue is how well does Hyundai compare on the other comparison points they didn’t mention? There has to be a difference between a $33K vehicle and a $70K vehicle. Toyota/Lexus isn’t making a $37K profit on every Lexus sold. I suspect Hyundai’s real motivation behind this ad is:

    a.) send a signal to customers and auto industry observers that Hyundai has
    aspirations to compete in the luxury sedan market. I think the general market
    perception of Hyundai is for low-cost, middling-quality vehicles (the initial wave
    of Hyundai vehicles imported to the US market were total crap). Now they appear to be
    shooting for a “value-priced luxury” market position. There is some risk to this
    strategy. If Hyundai still sucks on all the comparison points they didn’t mention,
    they can come off looking pretty foolish. Chrysler tried that back in the ’80s —
    it was laughable.

    b.) appeal to all the people who would like to buy a Lexus or Mercedes but can only afford
    about $30K. The real target audience is probably people considering Ford, Toyota and
    Honda models. If you can make the “just like a Lexus for only $33K” message stick, it
    might bring some prospective Ford/Toyota/Honda customers into the showroom. That
    would probably be considered a win by Hyundai. I’m skeptical that Hyundai is going to
    successfully win a substantial number of Lexus/Mercedes/BMW customers.

    2. For the record, the original Lexus sedan was positioned at the same price point as the Mercedes E Class. The difference was Lexus offered some features (like an 8-cylinder engine) which, at the time, you could only get in the Mercedes S Class — which cost about twice as much. Lexus did succeed in picking off some E Class sales. But I don’t think they ever had a measurable impact on S Class sales.

  • Paul Reinhardt 2:58 am on March 5, 2009 | # | Reply

    Adding to Tom’s point above, I don’t think that Hyundai is really targeting Lexus buyers, but rather those who aspire to Lexus but might otherwise buy Ford, Nissan, etc. It’s like the classic Avis “We Try Harder” strategy, where Avis focused their positioning against Hertz — at the top of the rental car heap — and never mentioned National, Budget, Advantage and the many others they actually competed against. By acting as if it were a two horse race (although they were BARELY above the others and far behind Hertz), Avis actually did gain big market share and jumped to a solid #2.

    As you point out, there are other issues with Hyundai’s campaign that are noteworthy for tech marketeers (brevity and credibility of key examples, for example). Cindee…please don’t hesitate to pick on high tech marketing…it’s so fun and kinda like fishing with dynamite occasionally!

  • Cindee 3:24 am on March 14, 2009 | # | Reply

    Great comments, all! Full disclosure here – I’m a Lexus LS sedan owner and the main reason I bought a Lexus is because I believed it offered a QUIET and SMOOTH ride (my main purchasing criteria – and another reason why the Hyundai ad caught my eye).

    I was exchanging emails on this topic with a friend (male) and he said that quietness isn’t a big selling point for him. He said that “tactile feedback is important for me. Leaks and funny noises are early indicators of problems in cars.” Similarly, my husband says he wants to “feel the road” when he drives a car.

    Which brings up an interesting point about AUDIENCE TARGETING (see Nancy’s Trader Joe blog for more on this)– in this case, male vs. female buyers.

    I don’t know whether these preferences can be chalked up to gender differences or not, but the point is that different target audiences care about different things.

    So the lesson here is understand your audience and tailor messages accordingly!

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