challenger brand

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: