Kia sews up new marketing angle

Carmaker hopes to generate buzz for Soul in young Hollywood with clothing line

Tucked inside gift bags given to nominees, presenters and performers at the MTV Movie Awards was the usual free hotel stay, Starbucks gift card and bottle of vodka. But one brand especially stood out from the rest — Hamstar Clothing.

That’s because the apparel line, which features a stylized profile of a hamster’s head and star in its eye, has yet to launch and the only, uh, things wearing it so far have been rodents.

Kia Motors America, which is behind the new brand, decided to launch the line as part of the next installment of a campaign for its Soul, with spots rolling out on TV, in theaters and online on sites like Facebook and Pandora.

An initial ad effort that bowed last spring featured giant hamsters admiring and driving the small SUV. The effort caught on so well with the Gen-Y demo that Kia was hoping to attract that its ad agency, David & Goliath, returned last week with a new spot that brings back the hamsters as a hip-hop crew rapping to the 1990s track “The Choice Is Yours” from the Black Sheep.

The first spots were a mix of advertising and entertainment that caught on because of their unusual imagery that represents the hamster inside every consumer who runs in circles and feels like they’re getting nowhere, according Tim Chaney, director of marketing for Kia Motors America. The Soul represents the opposite of that.

The new spots “took it up a notch to depict the hamsters as even cooler,” Chaney says.

For the ads, the agency wanted to place the hamsters in a real-world setting but didn’t want to deal with usage issues from real clothing brands, so it decided to create its own.

Kia will start selling t-shirts, a hooded sweatshirt, hat and wooden dice featuring the logo this week on HamstarClothing.com. How long the clothing will be available will depend on demand.

The automaker is relying on word-of-mouth and social media to drive sales, considering the initial hamster-starring ads proved a major draw online. The brand won’t appear on Kia’s official website or even be featured at dealerships.

“We didn’t want to shout out that this is from Kia Motors,” Chaney says. “We wanted it to be authentic and credible and cool in and of itself.” Strategy is also tied to the fact that “we’re still in the business of selling cars,” Chaney added.

But marketers have long turned to celebs to help make their products cool. And Kia is hoping that its Hamstar brand will generate some buzz and help lift Soul’s sales (last month was its biggest sales period).

The Hamstar clothing wound up in MTV’s gift bags and was given away at the official afterparty as part of an ongoing sponsorship pact that the Korean automaker has with the MTV Movie Awards — this was the company’s third year promoting the awards show.

The line will also be showcased at this summer’s Van’s Warped Tour, which Kia has been sponsoring for the past three years.

“Young Hollywood and celebrities are definitely influencers,” Chaney says. “If we’re lucky, some of them will wear it and be caught in photos.”

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