Kia Soul, Jeep Wrangler and Chevy Cruze among America's hottest products
The Soul Kia, Jeep Wrangler and Chevrolet Cruze -- posting strong sales and generating buzz -- are among America's 25 hottest products for 2011, joining Dove soap, Arizona Tea, Goldfish crackers, Sharpie markers and the Forever 21 clothing chain, according to Advertising Age, a sister publication of Automotive News.
The three models have also been aided by savvy marketing and a steady rebound in the U.S. light vehicle market, the magazine says in selecting "America's Hottest Brands" in its latest issue.
Hyundai, Ford and Buick were named to the magazine's list of hottest brands last year.
Here's a look at what Advertising Age has to say about the three hot light vehicle models:
Redefining an automotive category -- in the case of the Chevrolet Cruze, that would be the subcompact class -- is a challenge for an automaker, especially when the benchmarks include competitors like the Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.
Since its debut, the stately four-door Cruze has been targeted to a dual audience of younger buyers and a middle-aged crowd, said Cristi Landy, marketing director for small cars for Chevrolet. And it's found its target: the nameplate has sold more than 200,000 units in the U.S. market as of October, making it GM's hottest-selling car brand, ahead of the Malibu, which sold 181,000 in the same period.
A launch campaign constructed by Goodby, Silverstein & Partners emphasized the Cruze Eco's fuel efficiency -- 40 miles per gallon plus -- and a tagline that it's achieved "by sacrificing nothing." Media spending by the Chevrolet division of GM totaled more that $1.1 billion last year, according to Ad Age data.
"We had to establish a new name, had to get awareness out there and break through against the Civic and Corolla," Landy said. She readily concedes that initially timing helped propel the Cruze, because of a shortage of Japanese-branded cars affected by the tsunami and earthquake earlier this year, and a rather lukewarm reception to Honda's redesigned bread-and-butter model, the 2012 Civic.
But GM plans to build from here.
The woes of its rivals, Landy said, "definitely gives Chevy an opportunity here to make some noise, and we're going to take advantage of that."
Remember the Kia Sephia? Kia would prefer that you didn't. The '90s weren't particularly kind to Korean automakers -- a reputation for shoddy quality didn't help attract buyers to either Hyundai or its sibling Kia in the U.S. market. But what a difference longer-than-average warranties, loads of standard equipment, sexy styling and a few hamsters can make.
While Hyundai drastically raised awareness this year with its revamped Sonata and Elantra, Kia stole the spotlight with its CGI hamster spots for the Soul, which were created by agency David & Goliath of Los Angeles. The TV spots were awarded Automotive Ad of the Year by Nielsen Automotive Advertising. In September, Motor Trend placed the dancing creatures' "Share Some Soul" video for the 2012 model on its chart of top auto video ads, with 5.4 million views that month.
"We knew that the car would skew young, and we wanted to do something significantly different," said Colin Jeffery, who led the creative team that developed the three hamster spots. One idea, he said, was "to reflect how people go through the daily grind ... round and round." Like hamsters.
The funky, boxy Soul has been a success since its debut in 2009, pushing the buttons of its target audience of budget buyers and young families with upmarket sound systems, robust engines and good mileage. And sales figures are indicative of the continued climb, at least through the end of this year. Through October, Kia tallied 405,095 vehicles sold, with the Soul accounting for more than 85,000 of those, according to data from Automotive News.
As the saying goes, there's only one Jeep. And the brand has done well lately, with overall sales up an astounding 44 percent this year through October, to 339,526 units, according to Automotive News.
But when it comes to models, the star is Wrangler, the best-selling Jeep-branded vehicle in the U.S. market this year, with 101,820 units moved through October.
And Wrangler isn't letting up on the gas. In a branding coup, it paired up with the arrival of this season's most-anticipated video game, Activision's "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" -- which fits neatly with Jeep's military resume. Jeep is introducing a real-world, limited-edition model tied to the game, in which Wrangler appears virtually.
The videos for "The Toughest Vehicle in the World ... Any World" campaign -- which also integrates billboard and print ads -- were created by ad agency GlobalHue in Detroit. The promotion is the sequel to last year's Jeep/"Call of Duty" partnership. The marketing, which Ad Age estimates cost about $10 million, includes an online sweepstakes contest on Facebook and TV spots that incorporate live action and game footage.
Another special-edition Wrangler, called the Arctic, is due late this month. The two-door version of the Wrangler starts at $32,669.
The Jeep brand is maintaining a high profile at Chrysler, with media spending totaling $265.3 million last year, up 71 percent from 2009, according to Ad Age DataCenter research.