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Kia Super Bowl Ads Could Be an Ominous Sign of Success

Attentive readers will know I think Super Bowl advertising is by and large a waste of money calculated to stroke corporate egos, based on a long-ago experience covering Subaru.

For smaller automotive brands, Super Bowl advertising is a dangerous sign of "Big Car Company-itis."

Therefore, I hated to hear Kia (KIMTF.PK) confirm at the Detroit auto show earlier this month that Kia will have its first-ever Super Bowl advertising at this year's big game on Feb. 7. The Wall Street Journal ran a story on Super Bowl advertising today, emphasizing the fact that foreign brands dominate this year's Super Bowl ads in the automotive category.

Super Bowl advertising traditionally is more effective for big-volume brands like the Dodge Ram pickup, another automotive advertiser on Super Bowl XLIV. Chrysler is trying to get people to think of Ram Truck, without the "Dodge," as a separate brand. Ram Truck needs just the sort of pure awareness-raising that the Super Bowl delivers.

Some people question whether a company like Chrysler that got a government bailout last year should spend money on what looks like a luxury. That got a testy response on a Chrysler blog aimed at the media (password required), in which Chrysler said the Super Bowl was an efficient way to deliver a high number of impressions.

Chrysler is in effect re-launching Ram Truck, which landed with a thud the first time around, just as gas prices went through the roof.

Kia is coming off a wildly successful year in 2009, with U.S. sales up 9.8 percent, while nearly every other brand fell. Let's hope that success didn't go to their heads. Since sister division Hyundai (HYMLF.PK) has advertised in the last couple of Super Bowls, presumably the parent company (both brands belong to the Hyundai Group) has put a sharp pencil to the idea and decided it made sense. Presumably.

Photo: Kia