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Hyundai Motor gets Hollywood reality check

Hyundai Motor gets Hollywood reality check

Korean auto giant needs ‘more strategic approach’ to product placement on big screen

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Published : 2013-12-08 19:37
Updated : 2013-12-09 15:46

Global automotive companies, having discovered the power of films, vie to have their vehicles appear in Hollywood movies or TV shows.

Most films are now released worldwide, which gives car brands more international exposure than a regional commercial.

In some movies, cars can also play starring roles. James Bond would not be 007 without his Aston Martin packed with customized capabilities, while the sci-fi film “Transformers” features characters and cars all from General Motors.

Then what about having a Hyundai brand car driven by a superhero?

The Korean auto giant ― for which any publicity, good or bad, is better than none ― has also put considerable resources into exposing its vehicles on-screen.

Hyundai’s screen debut was the Grace minivan in the 1996 Hong Kong action movie “Police Story 4” starring Jackie Chan. But its cars were almost invisible on the big screen until the early 2000s.

Then a breathtaking chase scene in the 2004 “Bourne Supremacy” changed the game slightly for Hyundai.

The lead actor, Matt Damon, chased bad guys in the EF Sonata sedan, yelling: “Look at that silver Hyundai.” The car had the audience’s attention for about five minutes, even though there were no product placement deals. 

EF Sonata, the Hyundai car most often seen in U.S. movies and TV series
The EF Sonata then appeared in other movies, including the 2005 “War of the Worlds” and the 2008 “The Hurt Locker,” becoming the most-seen Hyundai car in Hollywood flicks.

The highest-profile collaboration between Hyundai and a Hollywood movie was in director Christopher Nolan’s psychological thriller “Inception” in 2010 starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a thief who could enter into the dreams of others. 

Leonardo DiCaprio’s Cabernet Red Hyundai Genesis from “Inception”
In the film, the Genesis ― which was named the Car of the Year in the U.S. in the same year ― leaves a strong impression, boasting its sleek, dynamic styling and especially after remaining intact even after a collision with a train.

“Hyundai used to focus more on building quality cars. But the carmaker started putting resources into design and more recently marketing under the leadership of vice chairman Chung Eui-sun (who is also the son of the group chairman Chung Mong-koo),” said Kim Sang-hoon, professor of marketing at Seoul National University.

“Until now Hyundai has been desperate to expose its cars more frequently. But now is the time for a more strategic approach,” he said, adding “Product placement is touchy and it has to be done properly.”

The concept car for the upcoming Hyundai Tucson The Walking Dead Special Edition
Probably as part of the efforts, Hyundai has bravely decided to associate itself with brain-eating zombies as it has offered its Tucson crossover to AMC’s graphic series “The Walking Dead.”

Since 2011, the Hyundai Tucson has played a key supporting role in recent episodes of the zombie drama, helping out a group of survivors to fight against the undead.

Hyundai also unveiled several customized zombie survival machines during the 2013 Los Angeles auto show last month and plans to sell the Tucson The Walking Dead special edition early next year.

The all-wheel-drive special edition will also come with special features such as a zombie survival kit, including a 72-hour survivalist’s backpack and a quick reference guide.

Hyundai is said to have paid “a lot” for the deal on conditions: There would not be bloodstains on the car and it couldn’t be used to roll over zombies.

“The bidding war was fierce among carmakers,” said a Hyundai spokesperson. “After its appearance in the drama, the Tucson, one of our top-selling models in the U.S., has gone viral among younger generations.”

He declined to further elaborate on future Hollywood product placement plans that are usually handled by the company’s U.S. sales and marketing unit.

Industry watchers predict more aggressive activities as Bob Isherwood, the legendary creative director at New York-based Saatchi & Saatchi, recently joined Innocean Worldwide, Hyundai’s advertising arm, as global marketing adviser.

Despite the carmaker’s recent efforts to appeal to more premium buyers, it still seems far from likely that superheroes would choose a Hyundai over their favorites such as the Lamborghini or Bentley.

But Kim suggested that the carmaker could seek to gain a cooler, smarter image by offering its luxury sedans like the revamped Genesis to “elite characters” including fashionable Wall Street traders.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)

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