Kia Brand Finds Success in Gerbils: I am fairly confident that you would be familiar with the Kia hamsters. These spokes “people” for the newly released Kia Soul have given the car an instant cool factor and inspired an entire generation of young American adults to give this car maker a second look.
In many ways, the hamsters represent a rebranding success story move on the part of Kia. Kia has at times been viewed as a practical car and an economical one, but never as a gangsta choice. The hamsters, rolling down Hamsterdam Avenue in their lime green car and passing up friends in less stylish choices such as toasters, have given the car an urban feeling. Cameras close in on the Kia logo design and name of the car, making sure viewers know what car is making this kind of scene. Even the name, the Soul, seems like it was selected to appeal to a hip young urban crowd.
This branding success made a new rumor about the car maker all the more perplexing. Kia brand currently uses an alphanumeric naming system in certain markets, including their home market of South Korea. Instead of names, the cars are given a series of letters and numbers, similar to the American models of Mercedes, BMW, and other luxury car makers. Automotive News recently reported that Kia brand may adopt this model in the United States. The Forte would become the K3 and the Optima the K5. The Soul? Who knows. However, if Kia brand takes away this integral part of one of their hottest brands, they risk losing their audience altogether. The K-whatever feels like a giant yawn coming on when stood next to the cute and stylish Soul.
Granted, Kia Brand hasn’t always had enormous success in brand naming and branding. Names like ‘Cadenza’ and ‘Sportage’ have done little to capture the American imagination. This has led the car manufacturer to emphasize features and economy over an actual ‘brand’, much to the detriment of the car’s American sales. However, the Soul could be the beginning of an entirely new era for the carmaker. Quitting while you are ahead may work in gambling, but it is rarely a good idea in marketing.
Further, alphanumeric naming brings its own challenges. Even in luxury car makers, the names can be confusing to a customer who doesn’t understand the ‘code’. Usually, the letters refer to the class of the vehicle and the numbers to the package, like engine size. But this is not always the case. Will the Kia brand develop their own system or follow someone else’s? Both options seem to pale next to the recognizable brand and logo design of the Soul.
The Kia hamsters are compelling—passing up their friends, dressing a little cooler than the pack, and doing it all to thumping hip-hop in a car named the Soul. Would their hip dismissal of the ordinary, go-nowhere vehicle seem as compelling in a K-11? We don’t think so. In this case, the name is not just the inspiration for this brand; it is an indelible part of it.