Hyundai’s new brand platform has a ‘wah’ factor

Who: Hyundai Canada, with Innocean for strategy, creative and media (Tequila for French creative), and Middle Child for PR.

What: “We make wah,” a new brand platform that emphasizes the automaker’s Korean heritage. Future campaigns and communications will all feature “wah,” a Korean word that loosely translates as “wow” in English.

When & Where: The new platform launched Tuesday with a big media buy across TV, online, cinema, digital/social, print and out of home.

What is “wah”? “In Korean, ‘wah’ is a single syllable that captures positive emotion in a broad sense,” explained June (Jun Hyung) Lim, public relations and marketing executive coordinator, Hyundai Motor North America, in a release. “When I think of ‘wah’ the Korean definition for me is to surprise with joy.”

Why: Every marketer wants to differentiate itself from its competitors, but it can be particularly difficult in the automotive category, said Christine Smith, director of marketing at Hyundai Auto Canada. “We wanted something ownable.”

“Wah” will be that ownable brand asset, used as a unifying thread across all Hyundai advertising—part of its efforts at masterbrand building that began last fall.

“The idea of incorporating a piece of our Korean-ness into [the branding], but in a uniquely Canadian way, was of interest to us because it was going to help us be a little bit different, and we wanted it to stand out,” said Smith. “We think our product lineup deserves it. Our brand deserves it.”

How: The 60-second launch spot explains why Hyundai is using wah. “How do you describe an exclamation point, a thrill, or something your eyes just can’t believe,” asks the narrator to open the spot. “In Korean, that word is wah, and it’s like wow but more,” she says over a series of beauty shots showcasing different Hyundai models in range of settings and scenarios, accompanied by people having their own wow, or wah, moments.

“We make wah,” says the narrator as the spots ends and the words appear on screen for a moment, before wah is flipped to wow and then replaced with the Korean symbol 와.

If people don’t know what “wah” means now, they will learn pretty quickly thanks to a “heavy” media buy right out of the gate. “We’re going big to really establish this idea and then build on it over time,” said Smith.  “It’s not meant to be a single campaign that we do for a few months and then we do something different. This will be an enduring idea for us.”

Korean word / Canadian content: Wah is a Korean word, but the platform will present it in very Canadian ways, said Smith. “As you see more and more wah work come out, you will see that it is always going to be experienced through the lens of Canadians in uniquely relatable Canadian moments and situations,” she said. “And the same is true in Quebec, those wah moments will always be experienced in a uniquely Quebec way.” (Hyundai also announced a long-term partnership with French-Canadian singer and businesswoman/influencer Marilou as the brand’s exclusive Quebec brand ambassador.)

And speaking of Canadiana… While emphasizing its Korean roots with the new brand platform, Hyundai also did the most Canadian thing earlier this year by becoming the official automotive partner of the NHL and NHLPA. However, on Tuesday, it revealed that the sponsorship will be described as the “Official Electric Vehicle of the NHL and NHLPA.”

It will utilize the sponsorship in different ways across its entire lineup but will emphasize its EVs, said Smith. “That’s going to be our lead… really establishing ourselves as an EV leader, and we are. We’re the number one mainstream brand in Canada from a sales standpoint,” she said. “So we’re going to lead with that in the NHL.”

David Brown