Car marques switch strategy to showcase brands, not just new models, at motor shows

Motor shows have traditionally been used to showcase new models but Kia and Hyundai owner Hyundai Motor Group is changing tack this year to promote its brand.

At the Paris Motor Show Kia is introducing a new stand design that European marketing boss Artur Martins claims is a “step change for the brand”. Speaking to Marketing Week in Paris, he said the booth is much “cleaner” and has a more “upscale and premium” feel, reflecting changes in the wider marketing by the car marque aimed at communicating a more sophisticated brand.

It will have a stripped back minimalist look and focus on a small number of models, such as the Sorento, that can have a halo effect on the brand. The whole design of the stand – from the architecture to the content – has been upgraded, with sister brand Hyundai set to follow suit at Geneva in March.

The aim, said Martins, is to “showcase the brand” and make sure Kia offers a “consistent experience”. Kia’s wider marketing message is shifting to focus on its values, rather than value, and Martins says it wants to reflect that at Paris.

“We want to communicate our core values of quality and design. Our booth [at Paris] is a reflection of the brand,” he added.

This marks a change in how car marques use industry shows such as Paris. Along with Geneva and Detroit, these events are typically seen as a chance for manufacturers to show off their latest models and showcase concept cars.

However, with attendance at motor shows falling in recent years, in part due to the economy, and brands struggling for awareness, their role is starting to change.

Car marques have begun to question whether motor shows are the best place for car launches. For example Ford has previously launched its Focus EV and BMAX models at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas and Mobile World Congress in Barcelona respectively, while Volvo launched its XC90 online.

Neil King, automotive analyst at Euromonitor, says he expects more car makers to go down this route in a bid to garner more publicity. However, he believes this has caused some car marques to question the role of industry shows.

“Car marques are finding other avenues to launch products. With that the case they may be asking ‘what are we doing here’ and saying why shouldn’t they have a bit more of a push on highlighting the basic tenets of the brand and what it stands for, rather than just the vehicles themselves,” he says.

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Johan Fourie, chief operating officer at Innocean Worldwide Europe, says the shift shows that some car marques are starting to understand the strategic importance of these shows beyond just shouting about new cars. He believes they can be used as part of wider marketing activity aimed at offering visitors the “ultimate brand experience”.

That is increasingly important as more car buyers go online to research cars, meaning fewer are heading to dealerships and therefore don’t see a physical version of the brand until they’ve already decided which car to buy, he adds.

“Motor shows now have to perform a marketing job, they are just another customer touchpoint,” says Fourie.

The rise of digital has also had a role. Motor shows have opened up to a whole new audience beyond just those that physically visit, with the majority of car marques offering livestreams of launch events and online footage of the stands and content on show.

“The audience of motor shows is broadening dramatically through online and so this is a way to reinforce the brand,” says Fourie.

Martins says digital offers a chance for Kia to showcase its innovative edge not just in its cars but also in how it communicates with customers. It has tied up with Google to offer people online a chance to get a 360 degree view of the stand and the cars on it in what it claims is an industry first.

“We are limited in the number of people we can reach at the motor show. Online gives those at home a chance to interact with the brand,” he said.