The ad I picked is by Hyundai for the new Sonata Turbo. It is a two page spread with the sole image of a middle-aged, chubby, shlubby average Joe purportedly being slammed back into his seat by the acceleration of his new Sonata Turbo, as cued by the small image of an End Road Work sign in the upper-left corner. I think that this is an intriguing ideology, using this balding, average guy. They obviously aren’t selling sex.
Hyundai’s principal selling point has long been its affordability and accessibility, and they’ve really built their reputation on cheap but sturdy cars, only recently beginning to venture into luxury & sports car territory. This ad appeared in Automobile magazine, so one can assume that Hyundai is considering reader familiarity with the product and therefore chose not to show it. The other accompanying captions are, “The sweet smell of freedom; I-40 east @ mile marker #430; January 8th, 11:43:19 am.” Hyundai is thereby providing a setting of sorts for this moment of nirvana, but upon further investigation you realize there are probably mile markers #430 on I-40 east from Arizona to the Atlantic. This moment is taking place anywhere in Middle America, in the middle of winter, in the middle of the night. Hyundai has made significant gains in the American market in the past decade and perhaps they want to advertise that fact and lend their product a sense of Americana despite the fact it comes from a Korean company, like the Toyota Tundra which is now produced in Tennessee and heavily advertised as “American-made.” The Sonata is actually made in Alabama. The message I derive from this ad is: Hyundai Sonatas have been helping hard-working Americans get from A to B for a decade. But now, we make a turbo.
The auto industry has undergone radical change in the past 5-10 years alone. When I think about Hyundai and ideology, I think about the inception of the company in the early 90’s. Hyundai was the first Korean company to enter the American market and they broke in by making the cheapest cars available, to appeal to the American ideal of car-ownership at a price the most people could afford. In the twenty years since then, Hyundai has been steadily making better products year after year but still struggled to shake its image as a budget, econocar company. This is directly antithetic to the materialistic braggadoccio of early 2000s popular music culture, for example, to quote Kanye West from the song Golddigger, “He could win the Super Bowl and drive off in a Hyundai.” Hyundai usually doesn’t try to appeal to “the cool,” so much as the practical and value-driven buyers. In the auto industry, there’s this idea called the halo car where a manufacturer will build a ridiculous, top-of-the-line everything, shiny sports car to be the model of design and tech for the next generation of that company’s cars. Toyota just built one; it’s a shiny, carbon-fibre, $500k masterpiece that only a few people in the world will ever drive, but the fact that it exists and the press it generates creates buzz for Toyota products in general among enthusiasts. Building the kind of car that makes people drool is the most effective type of advertising for an automotive brand, and even if nobody can afford to actually buy it and the company loses millions, as long as people want to buy it, that’s a business success.