Hamsters That Sell: Kia Wins Auto Ad of the Year

hamster, Kia car ad
hamster, Kia car ad

Evidently, hamsters are good for sales, or at least for getting viewers to remember your product. The Kia Motors (KIMTF) ad for its Soul wagon created by ad agency David&Goliath, features dozens of them. The streets of a generic city are littered with hamsters that are stuck spinning on their creaky hamster wheels while hip hamsters zoom past in a bright red Soul. The ad was so effective in grabbing viewers' attention that it was awarded Automotive Ad of the Year at the Nielsen Automotive Advertising Awards on Wednesday.

Runners up included ads for the Cadillac CTS featuring Kate Walsh, formerly of Grey's Anatomy fame, and an ad starring Howie Long for the Chevrolet Silverado. Last year's winner was the Ford (F) Focus.

Yes, we've seen animated rodents in commercials before. Remember the Super Bowl spot for Bridgestone tires from 2008 where all of the creatures in the forest join in a collective scream as a car narrowly misses a squirrel or the Blockbuster commercial featuring a guinea pig and a rabbit gyrating to "She's a Maniac" by Hall & Oats. Given the flood of rodents we see during commercial breaks, why is Kia's ad so special?

It's memorable. When Nielsen asked TV watchers which ad they remembered, Kia's commercial featuring the furry little critters and the tagline "a new way to roll" stood out most. Of all automotive ads in 2009, Kia Soul's ad most successfully broke through the clutter and impacted audiences, Nielsen's IAG study on ad effectiveness found.

That's not an easy feat in the automotive world. "Every year there are a lot of automotive ads," Sallie Hirsch, senior vice president of research in the Nielsen Automotive Group, said. "It's one of the most cluttered categories."

In fact, automotive makers spent $8 billion on advertising, the most of any industry in the U.S. last year, according to Nielsen. And Kia is not one of the biggest spenders, Hirsch said.

Having hamsters driving the car was "something surprising, something different," Hirsch said. It's clearly quite different than the stereotypical auto ad featuring a car driving up a curvy mountain road while a classic rock song plays in the background.

But how did the commercial do in the category that really counts: selling cars? for 2009, Kia's sales were close to 10% higher, a bump the company partly attributed to sales of the Soul. Whether or not those hamsters helped is hard to determine.

Well, just a couple of months after the campaign launched, USA Today reported in April 2009 that Kia Souls were selling beyond expectation.