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Hyundai proves emotion doesn’t mean sacrificing sales

February 2021

This is a self-funded case study using our Advertising Testing solution.

The decision of whether to prioritize “rational” or “emotional”, “short” or “long”, is often a false dichotomy. The reality is that all advertising does a little bit of everything.

But more than that, prioritizing one doesn’t necessarily have to come to the detriment of the other. In fact, we often test advertising which sets out to simply imbue an idea, association, or impression about the brand in people’s minds. And frequently, it proves to be just as effective at driving a short-term behavioral response as advertising which is jam-packed with product information and rational arguments.

The double-whammy being that this strategy also pays dividends for the brand in the long-term – which is where advertising’s returns are greatest.

Automotive advertisers have struggled with this predicament more than most and, for a myriad of reasons (including immense pressure to meet short-term sales targets), have typically prioritized tactical (ahead of fame-building) communications. This has played a big part in the cliches and stereotypes which much of the industry’s advertising is often derided for (think: rugged mountains, sweeping coastlines, windy roads, and heavy emphasis on product features).

So, it surprised us greatly to see Hyundai’s latest spot for the Santa Fe, ‘Orinoco Flow’, receive a frosty reception from the creative community. Is it jealously? Why is bold, emotive, and original work in the automotive sector being ridiculed rather than celebrated?

To borrow an old cliché, winning people’s hearts – not minds – is the only way automotive advertisers will cut through the sea of sameness. To underline this point, we tested the effectiveness of Hyundai’s spot versus a more prototypical auto ad for Mitsubishi’s recently-launched 'All New' Eclipse Cross – the classic “emotional” versus “rational” battle to see whether we could dispel entrenched misconceptions about how advertising works.

To predict an ad’s effectiveness, both in the short- and long-term, our framework looks at three C’s:

  • Captivate: Does it attract and retain attention, and engage in an emotional way?
  • Connect: Does it leverage unique branding properties to create instant recognition?
  • Compel: Does it leave a lasting impression which predisposes people toward the brand?


‘Orinoco Flow’ opens with two young children squabbling after a game of sport, before an anxious-looking father starts the car and dust-like particles emit from the air-conditioning vents. This gives way to a surreal drama which then unfolds, with the petulant youngsters completely transformed – breaking out into an orchestral rendition of Enya’s iconic “Orinoco Flow”, complete with harps and bongo drums.

The idea being that the Santa Fe’s unparalleled level of comfort has restored peace and calm to the family at last. Not only did this approach entertain viewers and keep them attentive to every last humorous twist and turn, but the iconic soundtrack was also highly recognizable – building a bright, fun, and upbeat atmosphere.

While Mitsubishi’s focus on adventure generated a lively tone, the “all new Eclipse Cross” relied much more on cliché landscape shots, generic lifestyle imagery, and heavy emphasis of features – eliciting a more subdued reaction from viewers in comparison, along with considerable boredom.

Hyundai Auto Ad Testing - Captivate metrics


While both ads were structured around the vehicle, Mitsubishi spent disproportionately longer focusing on aesthetics and features. Constant shots juxtaposing the bright car against a lush backdrop ensured viewers’ attention remained fixated on the Eclipse Cross – however, this approach isn’t exactly new for the category.

In contrast, the quirky and abstract production for Hyundai isn’t yet a style people uniquely associate with the brand (although it’s a notable escalation from the brand’s 2018 campaign). This will of course take time to bed-in – but, in order to do so, requires buy-in from the entire organization to see that it’s carried through.

Regardless, by structuring the story around the Santa Fe’s unique ability to bring harmony to even the most disruptive family, the vehicle still played an integral role in the narrative – meaning the brand’s level of involvement in the ad didn’t sit miles behind Mitsubishi.

Hyundai Automotive Ad Testing - Connect metrics


Mitsubishi’s feature-centric storyline presented the Eclipse Cross as a ‘modern’ and ‘tech-savvy’ vehicle, suitable for outgoing, adventurous, and stylish individuals. While showcasing the vehicle’s GPS navigation system inspired some to think about their next getaway, this failed to build meaningful difference for the Eclipse Cross.

In contrast, the character-driven narrative for Hyundai built a deeper, more emotional connection with viewers – dramatizing the idea that the Santa Fe is the most comfortable, relaxing, and luxurious way a family can travel. Despite straying into the abstract and unbelievable, this approach left a much stronger impression on viewers – positioning the vehicle as something ‘everyone will love’. 

Even though Mitsubishi’s spot was more overtly designed to drive an immediate behavior change, the strength of the emotional response to Hyundai’s ‘Orinoco Flow’ actually meant it was the one which elicited a stronger short-term lift (+3pts, Persuasion) – while excelling in the long-term (+8pts, Feeling).

Hyundai Auto Ad Testing - Compel metrics


Neatly organizing communications into “brand” versus “tactical” buckets might be useful from a planning perspective, but this thinking can be extremely limiting. Not only that, but it’s detached from the realities of how advertising actually works. Every campaign should seek to drive a short-term response – even if it’s primarily designed with the longer-term in mind. As Hyundai have shown, it’s entirely possible to create entertaining, original, and emotive content which doesn’t just work its socks off in the long-term, but also encourages people to buy now.

Hyundai & Mitsubishi Automotive Ad Testing - Performance metrics

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