The year was 1998. The Indian market had been recently opened for car manufacturers. Lot of the biggies including GM and Ford had made a beeline with their models. So when a South Korean company announced that it too will be entering what analysts expected to be a hot spot people were, putting it mildly skeptical. So in January 1998 at the Auto Expo in New Delhi the Santro was launched. The car was not the highlight of the expo; it was Tata Indica which was destined to be in the limelight.
Some information about Santro first. Named and sold as Alto worldwide, it was a Class B car (in India, because of Maruti Suzuki 800 all the cars which are Class A worldwide are Class B here) and was mildly successful. Launching it was a gamble and all the car makers worldwide were going for Class C and D which had lower volumes but more profit margins and required less investment. But Hyundai was looking at India as an export base and keeping that in mind set up the factory in Tamil Nadu somewhere near Chennai.
The common man had heard about Ford, GM and Mercedes, but Hyundai? Naah! So first thing in Hyundai’s strategists’ mind was making people aware about this company. The company decided upon having Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) as the brand ambassador. The super star was a perfect choice.
The very first ad (the one I saw) of Hyundai Santro was screened somewhere in Feb 1998. The ad depicted a Korean executive going to SRK and asking him to endorse the car. SRK was naturally skeptical about endorsing the company and the executive smiles and produces a nut! He says that we at Hyundai make everything in the car right from the nut to engine and body.
This TV ad was supplemented with print ads showing SRK holding the nut and asking for people’s opinion that whether he should actually endorse the car or not? Naturally this campaign made the people aware about the company. People knew it was a South Korean company with a car to sell which was enough for a company with almost zero brand recall a few months back.
Then the big day came with the launch of Santro. In itself the car was superb, with Tall Boy design (first for India), elegant curves and an awesome engine, the car sales zoomed and Maruti’s Monopoly in the country was seriously challenged and Zen had a serious competitor.
The company’s initial advertisement campaign was a brilliant piece of work and set the tone for the rest of the advertisements.