Ian Beavis is a well-traveled adman. He has worked on the agency and corporate sides of the marketing business, representing Ford Motor Co., DaimlerChrysler and the U.S. sales arms of Toyota and Mitsubishi. He once hung out his own shingle - called, simply enough, The Shop. In May, the 52-year-old Australian joined Kia Motors America Inc. as its vice president of marketing.
Beavis' first task: launch a new advertising campaign. The TV spots rely on an over-the-top pitchman - shouting the Kia sales shtick of an "automotive bill of rights" - to groups of befuddled soccer moms, trendy clubbers and groggy triathletes.
At the press introduction of the 2006 Rio sedan and hatchback, Beavis spoke with Automotive News' Los Angeles Bureau Chief, Mark Rechtin, about the prospects of the youngest automotive brand in America.
Which brand is the easiest to conquest customers from - a leader like Nissan, a second-tier player like Mazda, or the domestic brands?
We do pretty well against the domestics. It varies by model, but we conquest minivans with Chrysler. Spectra sees lots of (Honda) Civic, (Toyota) Corolla and some domestic. Our dealers have a strong value message and the incentives needed to close the deals.
How are you finding Kia's brand voice and positioning?
The "manifesto" spot is going to lay out the tone we are going to take.
One thing we have discovered in our market research is how surprised people are that we have such a large lineup. They know the Sedona (sedan) and Spectra (minivan), then the awareness goes away.
The original campaign was not intended to have a brand spot like that, showing all of our products. Given the length and cost to run it, we are going to drive traffic to the Web to see it there. It won't be on TV at all.
On TV, we will have the pitchman doing a regular rotation of Sedona, Spectra and Sportage, then rotate Optima, Rio and Sorento when they get their redesigns.
For the first time, we will see a real link between national and regional advertising, in terms of the use of a spokesperson, as well as the manner, look and feel of the commercials.
The regional ads have separate creative, but it's clearly a Kia message.
We want a consistency of message, so the "automotive bill of rights" will flow through all our communication.
For your new campaign, your over-the-top spokesman seems a bit of a shouter. Who was your inspiration?
We were looking for a cross between John F. Kennedy and Jon Stewart.
His passion is almost political in nature. Then he softens, depending on the product. It's an impassioned plea, combined with the obvious realization that this is a piece of advertising. That's how people receive it.
This is not about (the spokesman). That's why we didn't get a celebrity. People got the message. That's why he works for both Amanti and Spectra buyers.
There is not a plan for a Howard Dean scream. He doesn't go that far. In other spots, he gives more of a wry smile.
How will you customize your ads for the Hispanic market?
We will have a Hispanic version, but the sense of humor is different, so we need to find out more about that.
There also is a different positioning and level of knowledge of the Kia brand in the Hispanic market. We are trying to find how far this can spread. This spot is not ready for the Hispanic market yet.
It also will have to be a different spokesperson. But you must realize that when you look at Hispanic advertising, there are not a lot of spokespeople.
You plan to move away somewhat from TV, instead using more print, outdoor and Internet advertising.
Our budgets are healthy, but Kia has been way too TV-centric.
TV drives traffic, but in fleshing out product attributes, the other media are the way to go.
We are going to have significantly more online activity. We are ramping up the Web site (kia.com).
We are hearing from a lot of people saying they want their nearby Kia dealer to contact them, so we have to do a better job of lead management.
We'll also see a little pickup in magazine spending. I can't translate that (pitchman) strategy into print, but I can give more detail about the message.
But make no mistake: TV is still going to be the bulk of what we do, with a fairly healthy increase in spot advertising in specific metro markets. We have a healthy network budget for launching products and a fairly healthy cable buy, but spot is where we need to grow.
We need to get the launch cadence of Sedona, Optima, and then the other models. Then we have to give them breathing room, while continuing to advertise the core models, Spectra and Sportage.
The next plateau of growth for Kia needs more consistency of message, not high, then quiet, then high again.
Hyundai is spending $100 million launching the Sonata. How much will Kia spend on the launch of the Optima, its platform sibling? Will it dominate your spending for the year, as Sonata is for Hyundai?
Sedona is the big product for us, with a higher volume than Optima. It's our most recognized model. Optima is very important, and the launch figures are fairly healthy. I cannot share the budget numbers with you.
We want Spectra and Sportage to be 100,000-unit models, so we have to continue to support them. We need connecting tissue between all of our communications. Otherwise, we are just squandering the launch. Sedona will be the big launch next year. My direct competitor is not Hyundai; it's Nissan, Mazda and Honda.
What does Kia's global slogan, "The Power to Surprise," mean? How do you reflect that in your advertising and marketing?
People have certain expectations when they walk into a Kia showroom, and then they are surprised. We have improved engines, interiors, dynamics and styling, and I think that turns us into a surprising brand. Does "The Power to Surprise" roll off the tongue? No. But I think we can use it as the basis of brand communication and positioning. We find it easy to work with.
How do you keep Kia's ads different from Hyundai's when you are sharing product platforms?
The words that come to mind with "The Power to Surprise" are "exciting" and "enabling." That is what drives the positioning. Working with those words gets us in a different place than Hyundai. Exciting and enabling has more of an edge to it. It points you in a different direction, and then it's only a matter of which degree you want to go. In the case of Spectra and Rio, we can go a long way.
Everyone is selling long warranties and safety. How do you differentiate your campaign?
We're known for our warranty, while safety helps our quality reputation. Then comes functionality. Combining warranty and safety is the underpinning of our communication, then we can use other elements.
We have lots of class-leading elements. So we emphasize things like interior room for Sedona, and better power and economy in Rio. You won't see our cars doing slow-motion crashes into walls.
How is working for a Korean car company different from Mitsubishi or Toyota?
The speed at which the Koreans move is most impressive. They have a very clear vision, and they are strategically focused. They have the resources to get the job done.
The pace at which they can move and the nimbleness of the company are incredible. In the time it took them to change the Rio's suspension specifically for the U.S. market, Toyota would still be messing around with it for two more years. People at the lowest levels actually have the power to get things done. You have actual authority at Kia, and you see the fruits of your labor instead of just running on a treadmill.
How would you rate Kia's advertising budget vs. sales?
Our spending per car has remained the same over the past few years. That is the prudent way to improve the business.
The amount we spend on the Web site is an accounting error for most companies, but it's the most usable site according to J.D. Power. We have one person keeping it updated, while other companies have rooms full of guys running the site.
We keep unnecessary cost out. It's a very lean organization. We are not adding a lot of people to hit 500,000 units in 2010.
We know where we want to go, and we will be relentless in getting there. We have absolutely achievable sales goals with the products we have in the pipeline.