N. Shatrujeet

So what brings you back, Mr Kim?

A look at the advertising strategy behind the reprise of Mr Kim’s character in Santro advertising after five long years

The polite but persistent Mr Kim can do with some credit.

Back in 1998, he hounded, nagged and sweet-talked one Mr Khan to endorse a funny-sounding Korean brand that most Indians had never even heard of. Khan politely kept saying thanks but no thanks, but Mr Kim wouldn't take the hint. So he doggedly tailed the reluctant Khan… till Khan capitulated.

Of interest is the fact that by the time (Shah Rukh) Khan came around and ‘agreed' to an endorsement contract, Mr Kim had told Indian consumers a few things about Hyundai (the company) and the Santro (the car). It might even be argued that it was the fictitious Mr Kim - and not brand ambassador Shah Rukh Khan - who first appealed to the left-brain of Indian consumers by selling brand Hyundai, which went some way in later establishing the Santro as a standard in the ‘B' segment of the Indian passenger car market.

That, of course, was five years ago. Since then, Shah Rukh has been regularly endorsing the Santro and its many variants, while Mr Kim dignifiedly withdrew into anonymity, his job done.

Well, after a five-year interregnum, gentleman Kim is back in the Santro's communication - though, at first glance, he doesn't come across as being particularly gentlemanly any longer. Quite the opposite, he is rather curt - even boorish - in the way he stops the cheerful Shah Rukh (driving a Santro) in the middle of nowhere and tells him to hand over the car's keys, explaining that his contract for the Santro Zip Plus is ‘over'. He virtually dumps Shah Rukh by driving away with the car, leaving the nonplussed endorser stranded on the highway. (Incidentally, this ‘teaser' interlude is part one of a two-part communication.)

If Mr Kim's behaviour is at odds with his earlier warm, gracious persona, everything is soon explained - in the second part of the communication. As Shah Rukh walks down the lonely road, a car draws up to him. And out steps Mr Kim. An understandably angry Shah Rukh demands an explanation, and Mr Kim readily offers one: the new Santro Xing, from which he has just exited. ‘Your contract for Santro Xing begins now,' he smiles genially at Shah Rukh, handing him the keys of the new car.

The Santro Xing, as we've all been told, is the new ‘global' car from Hyundai. A new avatar of the Santro Zip Plus, the Xing packs a host of new features, over and above new styling… but, hey, that's not what we're here for. We're here to discuss the reprise of Mr Kim's character after five long years. So cutting to the chase, what brings Mr Kim back into Santro advertising?

Anand Narasimha, executive vice-president, Saatchi & Saatchi India (which handles the business), has just one word to offer. "Disruption!" The idea of reviving Mr Kim's character, Narasimha says, was to create a disruption that signaled the end of the old Santro and the birth of a new Santro. "The Santro Xing is not a variant of the old Santro, nor is it a new model. It is a whole new car, and we wanted to make this clear in our communication. The use of Mr Kim was a clever disruption to show the clean break from the old Santro and introduce the Xing."

Mr Kim's resurrection is both strategic and creative. "Mr Kim had been a part of Santro's introduction into India," Narasimha points out. (Incidentally, it was Saatchi that had created Santro's launch campaign. The account then changed hands a few times before finally falling back into Saatchi's lap.) "He had got Shah Rukh to sign that first contract. We felt Mr Kim was the right person to tell Shah Rukh that the old contract was over, and then renew the contract for the Xing."

Sanjeev Shukla, manager - marketing, Hyundai Motor India, gives the same logic when he says, "The rebirth of the Santro had to take off from where the old communication had left off. So getting Mr Kim back made perfect sense. Plus, his return creates the disruption required to tell people about the new Santro. While communicating newness, his presence ensures that the continuity is retained in Santro advertising."

There is little doubt that the agency-client team also wanted to build audience interest. "We wanted people to be intrigued by the communication," reveals Narasimha. "We wanted people to ask themselves, is Shah Rukh being replaced by some other celebrity? Why is Mr Kim replacing him? This what-the-hell-is-happening intrigue fuels consumer interest and attention." That also explains the first-part teaser and the unraveling of the full plot in part two of the ad.

Keeping consumer interest alive is something that Hyundai consciously works towards, says Shukla. "Whenever we have perceived the possibility of brand fatigue in the consumer's mind, we have done something to create renewed buzz around the brand," he insists. "And we have always gained on perception terms."

Citing the example of last year's ‘Sunshine Car' campaign featuring Shah Rukh and Preity Zinta, he adds, "That campaign was created at a time when there was some amount of brand fatigue. Also, the Santro was beginning to be perceived as an older car… not a very new-generation car. As it is not easy making immediate changes in the car, the ‘Sunshine' campaign was created to impart a youthful and bubbly feel to the brand, and dispel the ‘older car' connotations. While sticking to the ‘complete family car' positioning, ‘Sunshine' created new interest for the brand in the consumer's mind." For the record, Hyundai sold 80,706 Santros last year, as opposed to 66,396 units in 2001, and 65,421 units in 2000. Shukla reveals that the company had sold 30,105 Santros by end-April, this year.

Mr Kim's comeback, of course, has nothing to do with brand fatigue - and that's anyway for the Xing to tackle. However, it certainly has to do with consumer interest levels. "When you use a celebrity endorser for four-five years, it is difficult to maintain interest in your advertising, even if the celebrity is popular," says a Delhi-based brand consultant. "After all, how much can a celebrity alone do? So, using the celebrity, you look at ways to innovate and keep interest from flagging. I think the use of Mr Kim is one such example."

The one risk involved in bringing Mr Kim back into Santro advertising had to do with whether audiences would recall the character from the launch campaign. Saatchi says it had the risk covered. "1998 is not such a long time ago," Narasimha points out. "Most of Santro's current target audience must have been at least in the twenties back then, and even if they don't remember the character top-of-mind, it's there in the subconscious. And this ad simply refreshes the memory, so it's not so tough." He adds that even if the character is not recalled, it's not an issue, as the story is still complete. "But our feedback shows that people who see the new ad immediately remember the old ads, which serves the purpose," he concludes. © 2003 agencyfaqs!

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