Kia's gains in the U.S. market lately have been rather obscured by the even more impressive performance of its larger, siblling Hyundai brand. But more and more, Kia is earning its own place in the sun as it consolidates share increases and carves out a unique brand identity apart from any other.
One way is by building on its hamsters marketing campaign for the niftily designed Kia Soul mini-car. In the latest ad, the soul-mellowing effect of the Soul and its cargo of fun-loving, gyrating hamsters is so powerful that it prompts combatants in a hard-bitten combat video game to lay down their arms and dance along.
Indeed, Soul is "A new way to roll," starting at prices of under $14,000. The new ad, released just before Labor Day weekend, breaks just in time to welcome new competition to the tiny-car segment in the form of the Fiat 500 and the new Scion iQ, as well as a Smart brand determined to try again in the U.S. market.
"We got a bit of a jump start of the Soul when gas got into the four-dollar-a-gallon range" earlier this year, Tom Loveless, VP of sales at Kia Motors America, told brandchannel. "It's such a versatile vehicle. It has attracted a lot of people from a lot of different segments to give it a good look. There's also an emotional connection from the design and a consistent marketing campaign."
Kia also keeps proving its mettle in the showroom in other ways. For August, the brand announced its 12th straight monthly sales record in the United States, with sales rising by 27 percent over a year earlier. For the year to date, Kia sales were up by 39 percent. Those gains have come despite some constraints on supplies of some of its popular models — which include the Forte and Optima small cars and Sorento SUV — because Kia hasn't been able to build them fast enough to keep up with consumer demand. Kia executives believe they will break in nine months this year, with sales through September, their U.S. sales record of 350,000 units for all of 2010.
Millennials, of course, are Kia's primary target. "We really like the niche that we’ve carved out for ourselves, and we think that’s what’s driving growth for us as a brand," Loveless said. "Since Soul was introduced in early 2009, we have introduced seven new products, and it’s really what we call a design-led transformation that is driving growth for the Kia brand."
That, and some animated rodents.
(Below, the earlier Kia Soul hamster spots)