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Kia Goes Online to Battle "Budget" Stereotype

Zooming its way to a new, upscale market for its Amanti sedan, Kia is using online advertising to lead into a January print and television media blitz.

The Korea-based car manufacturer, known for its humorous ads and economically priced cars, is accelerating its drive toward more upscale vehicles with the Amanti. Online ads are currently priming customers for a major ad campaign that will go full-throttle in late December and early January.

"We want to create a basic awareness of this vehicle online before the product launch, and also to generate leads we can maximize and drive to the dealerships," said Walter Anderson, VP of marketing for Kia Motors America in Irvine, California.

Kia was originally known for low-priced vehicles such as the Rio, priced at approximately $10,000, which was popular with the 18-to-24-year-old market. Over the last few years Kia has been adding more upscale offerings such as the Sedona, retailing for around $20,000 to $22,000. The Amanti, costing about $25,000, represents the latest move toward a more affluent audience.

A microsite, Kiaamanti.com, went live in late October. To drive traffic to the site, Kia began running rich media and display ads on sites where people typically do research for mid-sized or large-sized sedans, such as Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com), CarAndDriver.com and MotorTrend.com. The ads are also running on major portals such as Yahoo!.

"When the ads went live, we saw a 54 percent spike in our average daily traffic to the microsite," said Tim Chaney, Kia's brand manager. The microsite garnered about 40 million targeted impressions in two months, with about 4,000 average daily visits. According to Chaney and Anderson, this helped accomplish the goal of raising public awareness of the car prior to the print and TV campaigns, as well as generating sales leads.

"We've generated over 16,000 handraisers who have given us personal information for follow-up communications about the Amanti," Chaney said. Kia has begun a series of e-mails to the "handraisers" which will conclude the week of January with an announcement that the Amanti is available at local dealerships. All dealerships will be stocked by Jan. 1, Chaney said.

"The Internet audience is smaller and extremely targeted," said Anderson. (The same could be said of Kia itself, which sold 237,345 vehicles in the United States in 2002; in comparison, auto giant General Motors sells about 450,000 cars in the United States in just one month.) The online ad campaign will conclude at the end of December.

Print ads began Dec. 12 in the Wall Street Journal, and are hitting the newsstands now in various January magazines. The television ads will launch Dec. 26. These ads will have the same the taglines as the online campaign, "Where Is It Written" and "Big doesn't have to be boring." The ads will continue the mature, more serious mood of the Internet ads, eschewing the humor associated with Kia and aiming at older, more affluent customers.

"I think it (the online pre-launch campaign) is a sound approach because you're hitting those who you know are ready to buy something," said Brian Moody, a road test editor for Edmunds.com who reviewed the car for the online car site. Moody said Kia's challenge is breaking the stereotyped view that Kia is not a luxury vehicle.

"This is a car with a V-6 engine, this nice Infiniti stereo and a CD player. It's a good car in terms of performance, with 195 horsepower, which is a little less than other cars in that segment, but overall a nice car to drive," said Moody of the Amanti.

"Anything they have going against them is not the actual car. The thing they have going against them is perception," Moody said.