Neo Matsau

Kia’s disruptive orchestral opera. How Kia’s route to disruption is led by strategic and creative harmony.

Kia’s recent  super bowl advert exemplifies the disruption that can happen when creativity, sound strategy, and cultural relevance meet.

Rather than describing the advert in full. Click here to watch it.

But here’s the short of the super bowl ad. It starts with a typically wealthy looking couple collecting their keys from a valet. Surprisingly they meet Morpheus from the Matrix, who offers them a choice of blue and red keys, symbolising the choice of the world they know or the world they can explore. The couple choose the red key, and get into Kia’s new luxury vehicle.

Morpheus then serenades them with an impressive cover of the aria from Puccini’s Turandot while the world implodes around them.

While the ad itself is beautifully executed and wonderfully simple. What really amazed me was the bit of strategic magic behind it.

Kia roughly translated as “arising from Asia”, is the story of a South Korean bike part manufacturer, turned car manufacturer. Over their history Kia have done a number of things that have culminated to the challenger brand, the case study for disruption, we know today. Among them was one of their best moves of disruption, the recruitment of the hailed Peter Schreyer as their Chief Design Officer, the designer of the Audi TT and the New VW Beetle, who with his team, brought the product beauty to life . The story can be told no more accurately than by Clayton Christensen’s theory on low-end disruption in asymmetric competition. Read more about Kia and Hyundai, they are amazing stories.

In this bold move Kia addressed three key strategic opportunities.

  1. The new millennial buyer and childhood heroes – With the consumer power shifting towards genXers to Millennials, Kia recognised it would cost too much to change the perceptions of the old guard and rather focus on the emerging consumer who is yet to shape their brand allegiance. What James Dean, Steve McQueen, Star Wars, the Godfather was to other generations is what Morpheus is to the Millennials, an icon of that zeitgeist, and in this case, one of choice.
  2. The new global consciousness surrounding products from emerging markets, particularly Asia – Asia has become a huge global focus, with every second article about the leaps forward by China and India. Consumers are considering Asian products as equal or superior to Western products, viz. Samsung is Apple’s only credible contender in the smartphone market, or the rise of Huawei and Lenovo as tech powerhouses.
  3. The new consumer, who equally weights brand and utility – Kia might have done this at some other time, however when you look at the K900 you must see it is no less beautiful than any other luxury vehicle. The quality of product presented a rare opportunity for the brand to back up its claim. Studies show that consumers in developed markets are more concerned with function than brand, which is where the pricing suggests Kia wants a foothold.

What is even more amazing is this strategic brand re-positioning is so serious the K900 is looking to retail for close to ZAR700 000, they are really shaking off the cheap and cheerful image, disruption without the price compromise. The other car manufactures have tried to not take on the luxury manufacturers head on, Toyota choosing to use Lexus, and Nissan using Infinity. Kia may be one of the rare times your first car and your last car are the same brand, clearly fearless world domination is the key issue at their C-suite.

Malcom Gladwell’s David & Goliath expresses this phenomenon wonderfully, the overarching thesis of “David and Goliath” is that for the strong, “the same qualities that appear to give them strength are often the sources of great weakness”, whereas for the weak, “the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty”.

In the end, there is no better way to describe Kia’s attitude than the subliminal message to their competitors encoded in the super bowl advert than Nessun Dorma itself:

“Nessun dorma! Nessun dorma! Tu pure, o Principessa, nella tua fredda stanza, guardi le stelle che tremano d’amore, e di speranza!”

(“None shall sleep! None shall sleep! Even you, O Princess, in your cold bedroom, watch the stars that tremble with love and with hope!”)

“Ma il mio mistero è chiuso in me; il nome mio nessun saprà! No, No! Sulla tua bocca lo dirò quando la luce splenderà!”

(“But my secret is hidden within me; none will know my name! No, no! On your mouth I will say it when the light shines!”)

“Ed il mio bacio scioglierà il silenzio che ti fa mia!”

(“And my kiss will dissolve the silence that makes you mine!”)

Just before the climactic end of the aria, a chorus of women is heard singing in the distance:

“Il nome suo nessun saprà, E noi dovrem, ahimè, morir, morir!”

(“No one will know his name, and we will have to, alas, die, die!”)

Calaf, now certain of victory, sings:

“Dilegua, o notte! Tramontate, stelle! Tramontate, stelle! All’alba vincerò! Vincerò! Vincerò!”

(“Vanish, o night! Fade, you stars! Fade, you stars! At dawn, I will win! I will win! I will win! “)

This is the strategic and creative harmony all organisations should admire and strive to achieve. Kia’s vision is clear and bold, the message is loud and clear, they are not playing for second place.

Image Reference:

The Top 30 innovations that changed the world

According to the University of Pennsylvania, these are the top 30 innovations of the past 30 years. These innovations span all disciplines and have shifted the world, and propelled it forward.

The verdict is in: the Internet and PCs are the most transformative innovations seen in the last 30 years

Earlier this year, a panel of academicians from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School collectively came up with a list of what they felt were the top 30 innovations of the last 30 years.

The Wharton judges first had to define what innovation means in an age dominated by digital technology, medical advancements and mobile communications. Another qualification was the problem-solving value of the innovations. The innovations were selected based on how they impact quality of life, fulfill a compelling need, solve a problem, exhibit a “wow” factor, change the way business is conducted, increase efficiency, spark new innovations and create a new industry.
  1. Internet, broadband, WWW (browser and html)
  2. PC/laptop computers
  3. Mobile phones
  4. E-mail
  5. DNA testing and sequencing/Human genome mapping
  6. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  7. Microprocessors
  8. Fiber optics
  9. Office software (spreadsheets, word processors)
  10. Non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy)
  11. Open source software and services (e.g., Linux, Wikipedia)
  12. Light emitting diodes
  13. Liquid crystal display (LCD)
  14. GPS systems
  15. Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (e.g., eBay)

Click here to browse the full list.

Image credit: Paul Foreman

Rant: the Advertising industry

I recently watched the Axe Harlem shake ad, eish, it inspired the following rant.

From ‘single ladies’ (Vodacom), to Ayoba (MTN). Can brands not transcend mimicry!?! Its alright to derive inspiration from a cultural phenomenon, but to just copy it? Never forget that brands and advertising have immense cultural impact, and as an intrusive part of everyone’s lives we should be responsible enough as communicators to advance culture and consciousness. Are we still making brands that follow cool kids around and do whatever they do?

I have in my short life met many incredibly creative people in and outside agencies, and I wonder why we still see such intellectually un-stimulating dribble? Does this approach even deliver sales results? Perhaps the problem lies in agency structures, and agencies’ internal ability to discover the great ideas? Studies have found that organisations often have latent great ideas that the organisation does not exploit, due to hierarchy, job roles, relevant internal networks, or strategic constraints. Maybe we should take a closer look at these constraints and try to minimise their impact on the production of great work?

It’s also possible that the exploitation (see Ad Talent salary guidelines) of creative people that undervalues them as a resource. The low compensation may result in low employee satisfaction, or creative people believing the agencies do not deserve their best ideas (many creatives also freelance giving the best of themselves up to make more money, or for better creative opportunities). Maybe advertising bodies and standards authorities need to put more thought into how the standards pay affects the quality of output?

Maybe it is the standard of advertising education? Putting together great sales driven communication is as complex as any other field, so it makes no sense that the advertising schools are so easy to get into and graduate from (have you seen the AAA website?? and they teach advertising). Don’t get me wrong, many great products came from the advertising schools in the country, but honestly they would have been great either way. One of my greatest teachers came from an advertising school, even he seemed uninspired by the world he found himself in. To be frankly honest, some of the graduates are also below par. MOOC’s (massive open online courses) may be a better solution and may provide diverse access to quality knowledge. I still believe the campus experience does a lot for ones growth, and personally, it was from having robust debates with people from different studies and viewpoints. Advertising campuses often find themselves so far removed that the environment is homogenous in outlook. Without the random excursion, one becomes very concerned with peer recognition and thus has a higher propensity to use problem solving techniques that result in this e.g.  winning a Loerie vs. solving client’s problems. Awards are important, don’t get me wrong.

Perhaps it is the outdated communication models that still preside with the management teams in agencies and with clients? More capital needs to be injected into the R&D of better models and processes. As a strategist I had countless debates about what works and how to make it better. My youth was often my biggest disadvantage, constantly told I didn’t know how things worked (which I feel was was advantageous, learning an old dusty way of doing things may be difficult to unlearn). I would point to people my age turning the world on its head, outliers. I would think to myself, I am an outlier, how many other young outliers are being told the same thing? How do we expect solutions with this attitude? What also surprises me is how quickly clients/managers in suites will tell you how this design does not work, or that copy is wrong, etc., while creative people are told they cannot comment on business as they don’t understand it? I smell hypocrisy. More importantly I see a missed opportunity to collaborate on a meaningful level, letting the best ideas win and not the “best” people. In fact when you look at Kirton’s innovation styles see below, you see that you will need different types of thinking at different points in the solution process. My question, is the industry doing enough strategically to grow itself and the business’ they have as clients?

Radical Innovators Adaptive Innovators
Less disciplined Prefer precision
Manipulate problems Resolve problems
Work in short bursts Work steadily
Take control Act as authority
Challenge rules Work within rules
Seek radical change Seek implementation

I feel the traditional big agencies are well on their way to disruption, (see The Innovator’s Dilemma by Clayton Christensen) by smaller more agile, results driven market entrants. Remember the music industry? Blockbuster videos? Reader’s Digest?

One of the things I always loved about advertising is that it was an industry that championed the power of creativity in a world of cold logic. It gave the person who would come up with thousands of brilliant ideas, that would break rules, change norms, and shift perspective, a home and a sense of economic value. It is desperately important that the industry reforms in a number of ways.

I would expect that advertising agencies should have a wealth of data to share on creativity, from process, to nurturing to impact. If our country is ever to shift from a re-engineering to an innovation economy, this is the information we need. We need the creative businesses of this country to step up and do their part in transforming our country, not just make a feel good ads about it, ’cause with PVR, people may just fast forward, skip and flick past  it and get back to what they actually want to see.

By Neo Matsau – CEO, Bamboo