Carmakers use the arts as a way to win hearts


Renault Samsung's press conference on Monday had the usual litany of figures on sales and earnings, but this time it had an added emphasis on the automaker's Korean roots. At SamcheongGak, a traditional-style house in Seongbuk-dong where women representing gisaeng, Korea's famed courtesans, once entertained politicians and businessmen, musicians with stringed instruments serenaded reporters. Renault Samsung greeters wore hanbok, the Korean dress, and held lanterns to create an ambience of yesteryear.

"One of Renault Samsung Motors' goals is global localization," said Jerome Stoll, the automaker's chief executive. "We are a company that is trying hard to become a globalized company, but at the same time, we know the importance of localization and therefore we try to integrate with the local customs and tastes.

"The best way of localizing is cultural marketing and one of our efforts last year was to restore Korea's culture," he said.Both foreign and domestic automakers have seized upon cultural icons to burnish their brands' image and to market to their target customers in Korea, upper-income drivers who appreciate the finer things in life. Such marketing has also turned the automakers into patrons of the arts. GM-Daewoo has been sponsoring big-budget musicals such as "42nd Street" and "Beauty and the Beast" since the auto companies' merger in 2003.

Ssangyong Motor Co., which makes the popular sport utility vehicle Rexton as well as the Chairman Sedan, recently signed an agreement to give Seoul Arts Center 300 million won ($297,200) to fund opera productions this year. For the newly dubbed "Ssangyong Motor Classics," the automaker, which was bought by a Chinese company last year, will be footing part of the bill for "La Boheme" and the musical "Phantom of the Opera." "It's target marketing. Consumers of these cultural performances are potential consumers of our luxury cars such as the Chairman and Rexton," said Kim Bum-suk, a public relations manager at Ssangyong Motor. "Also, cultural marketing is a good opportunity to give our products exposure." A spokeswoman for Seoul Arts Center said that its partnership with Ssangyong Motors brings a multitude of benefits. "By putting on an excellent performance, we eventually widen the pool of consumers of art," said Lee Sang-mi. "Also, corporate sponsorship, which can include ticket sales, lessens the burden on our part of having to sell all the tickets."

BMW Korea is focusing less on the mainstream and more on edgier art in its marketing. To announce its new 3 series this month, BMW had acclaimed directors Kim Ki-duk, Kim Seong-su and Choi Eun-taek produce three films that interpreted BMW's characterization of its latest line ― dynamic, aesthetic and innovative. "Culture is among one of BMW's brand identities, and now cars have also become a lifestyle, rather than mode of transportation, so cultural marketing is essential," said Jung Young-mi, public relations manager for BMW.

Domestic automakers are joining the marketing trend as well, although on a much smaller scale. Kia Motors Co. provides tickets to operas and concerts to buyers of Opirus, its luxury sedan. Hyundai Motor Co. sponsors a children's drawing contest every year. Although auto companies can easily raise their brand awareness with high-profile placements in the arts scene, whether that leads to an increase in sales is uncertain. Automobile companies generally declined to say how their cultural marketing helps their bottom line. "Rather than have a direct impact on sales, the effect we seek from cultural marketing is a more intangible, long-term one where it enhances our image," said Ha Tae-eung, general manager of Renault Samsung Motors. "Our customers, when they come to buy these sedans, know that they do not have to worry about quality." He said jokingly that Renault Samsung's aggressive marketing has spawned an unwritten creed among upper-middle-class women: Don't attend your high school reunions if you don't own an SM5.

Ms. Lee of the Seoul Arts Center, who has worked with corporate sponsors since 2002, said the success of such partnerships shouldn't be measured just in terms of numbers. "The fact that companies continue, year-on-year, to launch cultural marketing in sync with us, means that it works," she said.

- Source from JoongAng Daily (Mar 23, 2005) -