What comes to mind when you think of Hyundai? If you work your way down your list of associations, past “affordable quality,” ‘Korea,” “Assurance” and even “Jeff Bridges,” you’d still have to scroll for a while to get to “Skrillex .” Until now, of course.
Hyundai is the latest big brand to become a bona fide patron of contemporary music with Regeneration , a film project that pairs stars from electronic music with major names representing five other music genres. The result is a feature length documentary on music history, directed by Amir Bar-Lev (The Tillman Story) and five original tracks created by the artist combos and distributed for free by the car brand.
The Regeneration campaign supports the launch of Hyundai’s new Veloster, an entry level model aimed at the sorts of people to whom the word Skrillex means “DJ,” not “barn disinfectant,” and kitted out with the kinds of things that those same people presumably look for in a car: free Pandora as a standard feature, connectivity via the brand’s Blue Link telematics system, and a 7-inch, Xbox-friendly touch screen. Oh, and the car has three doors (as in two on one side, one on the other).
Regeneration sees five superstar DJs and dance artists examine and interpret unexpected musical genres. So, DJ Premier is assigned classical, Skrillex gets rock, The Crystal Method take on R&B, Mark Ronson tackles jazz, and Pretty Lights confronts country. The electronic artists are charged with exploring the history of their assigned genre together with musicians from that field, and creating a new track with those new, counterintuitive collaborators.
For the project, hip hop DJ and producer Premier worked with a professor of classical music from Julliard to come to grips with the subtleties of that genre and worked with Boston’s Berklee Symphony Orchestra on an original track which will feature rap vocals by past Premier collaborator, Nas. Participating stars from other genres include LeeAnn Rimes, Erykah Badu, Martha Reeves, the Dap Kings, and the surviving members of the Doors. The latter have collaborated on perhaps the most highly anticipated, or at least sheer curiosity-inducing, track with Skrillex, who was recently featured on the cover of Spin magazine as the face of modern electronic music.
The trailer for the 75-minute film has been released on Hyundai’s YouTube channel and portions of the film will play at a series of live “Remix Lab” events the brand is hosting in New York, L.A., Miami, Las Vegas and Chicago. The DJ Premier track will, er, premier at the New York event this evening, which will feature a Q&A with the turntablist. All five tracks will be available for streaming on YouTube in November and made available for free download 7-14 days after they're posted.
Dominic Sandifer, president of Greenlight, the music-oriented agency behind the campaign, says the intention is for the film to play the festival circuit, and it will also screen at music festival Coachella. The project was produced in conjunction with the Grammys, and promo spots showing behind the scenes film footage will air during the November 30 nominations program. Sandifer says the songs and the film also providing an ongoing source of content for use in dealerships.
Of course all of this is designed to appeal to a hipper, younger audience than one might typically associate with Hyundai, an audience called, by Sandifer and others, the “creative class.”
But will it move units?
While most car launches begin with a TV campaign, Hyundai CMO Steve Shannon says the company stepped back from ad assumptions and asked, “What are the passion points for this demographic?” To interact with this demo in a more meaningful way, the brand has focused its efforts on becoming involved in the areas that are most obviously appealing to the younger set --music, action sports, games.
Hyundai isn’t the first brand to make this connection or to create music-driven projects and it won’t be the last. Converse  has commissioned original tracks and launched a recording studio to support budding bands; Ray Ban recently announced a project called Raw Sounds, which sees former Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr working with five up-and-coming bands, including Best Coast, on new tracks inspired by an element provided by Marr. Toyota has a long history of underwriting music, including a recent initiative to back new releases and tour dates for the most metal of metal bands .
That kind of association with current culture isn’t as obvious a marketing play for an automaker like Hyundai, but the company has been taking deliberate steps over the last several years to recast the brand’s place in consumers’ hearts.
Shannon says the campaign is part of a broader, longer term marketing evolution for Hyundai. In its earlier days in the U.S. market, the brand contended with issues of quality perception which have since been largely eradicated via a focus on design and new approach to marketing. The brand was successful in creating a solid quality/value persona, but Shannon says it’s no longer enough to talk about things like performance and fuel economy; those things are the price of entry in terms of building a brand. Hyundai’s efforts over the last several years have all been part of a bid to bridge the gap, says Shannon, between “rational purchase” and “emotional connection.” The launch of the new Veloster proved a perfect opportunity to take that less tangible, emotional sell to the next level.
But still: Skrillex? A campaign like Regeneration offers an opportunity to build an audience but the ROI, the link between all that cool content and car sales, is hardly clear-cut. “We have an innovative and progressive leadership,” says Shannon on the subject of why the company was willing to back a project like this. “It’s a culture where we know we need to reach, where it’s sometimes OK to fail. ROI is important, but a project like this shows how many different facets and channels we can open up as a brand.”