As the NBA playoffs continue, several ads from Kia (the official sponsor of the NBA) have caught my eye. This one in particular sticks with me:
All of the ads in this campaign do a good job of making the viewer wonder if a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but the commercial raised a bigger question for me. Can a brand be successful with two opposing brand messages?
Usually, consumer perception of a brand cannot be changed by flipping a switch, running an ad or making a fancy car. The most successful companies spend billions carefully crafting and maintaining their single brand image. For example, every aspect of Coca-Cola's marketing is designed to reinforce their altruistic, refreshing family-friendly brand image. Currently, Kia is not associated with "luxury" because they have crafted their image to be a bit more informal:
I'm willing to bet you knew that wasn't an ad for Mercedes well before the logo appeared at the end. Brand perception and image are important, and Kia, though they have a strong brand image, might not have the right street cred to launch a luxury line. Their modus operandi has been to make the cheapest Korean imports possible, with customizable colors and flair. Part of a luxury car is perceived value, and not many luxury brands can say they've had a buy one, get one sale on their cars
. I'm interested to see how this will work out for Kia; to market high-end sophistication and low-end trendy under the same umbrella, especially when they've established themselves as hip and cool, not refined and sophisticated.
It isn’t impossible for Kia to become a player in the luxury car game. Japanese automaker Toyota cranked out inexpensive cars and was the Kia of the '70s. When they wanted a piece of the luxury auto market, they had success spinning off their new brand, Lexus, in the '80s. As a new company, Lexus did not inherit the Toyota brand image and was able to make a first impression as a high end contemporary. Separating from Toyota and its brand message allowed Lexus to enter the market place without carrying the "budget" stigma that goes with the Toyota badge. Kia might hope to add value to the current line of Kia cars, but will more than likely end up devaluing their luxury line. Can Kia transition from inexpensive street machines to high-end luxury? Yes. But I think any brand will have it's problems trying to be both at the same time. As their hamsters say, "you can get with this, or you can get with that," but Kia needs to pick one and focus on maintaining a unified brand image around it.