Hamsters & Lady Gaga: Why Weird is Winning

Before you read anything I have to say, please stop reading my post and watch the latest commercial for the Kia Soul, if you haven’t seen it already. (Hint: the hamsters are back).

Now, that’s what I call swag marketing.

Let me start by saying I’m not usually a big fan of ads. I’ve rolled my eyes at more commercials than I can count, but this one actually makes me proud to be a marketing major. While Kia’s newest ad hasn’t sparked a huge #hashtag trend or meme craze online, it has initiated some interesting conversations in social media circles.

Interestingly enough, Kia execs noted a substantial difference in reactions to the ad by fans on Twitter vs. Facebook. Tweets about the ad were overwhelmingly positive; one user even touted it as being better than Lady Gaga’s actual music video for “Applause.” (Side note: Just watched it to see if I agreed. No idea what the hell I just saw. Classic Gaga).

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Facebook fans, on the other hand, proved to be much more critical of the hamsters’ new look, arguing that hamsters are supposed to be round and fluffy, and urging Kia to bring the “real” hamsters back. (Update: 24 hours after I took this screenshot, Kia actually removed this photo from their Facebook page).

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Did such a distinct disparity in opinion arise by chance, or because of the differences between nature of Facebook and Twitter? It’s interesting to think that there may be certain social media sites that lend themselves more easily to positive or negative reactions to marketing campaigns. I’m not sure if Kia’s case is enough evidence for such a claim, but it’s certainly something to think about.

Skinny vs. fat frustrations aside, it’s worth pointing out the marketing lessons to be learned from Kia’s creativity, here:

1. Make us laugh. Out loud.

Getting people to literally LOL is not easy to do these days, especially in the advertising space. I can honestly say I laughed out loud the first three times I saw Kia’s ad, and honest humor is one of the best ways to engage a consumer. Laughing makes us feel like we’re participating, so let us in on the joke! Just make sure it’s funny.

2. Sex still sells (but don’t push it).

There’s a significant difference between briefly showing women in yoga class and subjecting your viewers to the most-awkward-kiss-of-all-time (Thanks for that, GoDaddy). In other words, keep it classy. Kia pulled it off well with this commercial—so well, in fact, that fans started talking about how sexy hamsters are, never mind the cute girls working out at the gym.

3. Be weird. We like it.

Lady Gaga knows it. Kia knows it. Weird is the new cool. So create something that will make us call our best friend and say “Holy $#@%! Have you seen this?” Show us anthropomorphic animals. Show us a baby talking about stocks. Show us a man on a boat/horse holding Old Spice. Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to get a little weird. As long as it’s relatable, we’ll tweet it/post it/probably make a Halloween costume out of it.

Kia has had its hamsters doing it all, from driving toasters, to breakin’ it down to “Party Rock Anthem” mid-battle in a Halo game…there’s no doubt that Kia’s Soul campaign has embraced the brilliance of being weird.

What do you think? Is weird the best way to spread the word in marketing campaigns? When have you seen weird go too far? When was it spot on?

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This post is dedicated to my only childhood pet—Pepino—our family hamster, who passed away in 2005. I’m sorry all we ever gave you was a wheel, when you probably could’ve used a treadmill.

12 comments

  1. Hey Kristie! Great post! I totally agree with you that weird is the new cool when it comes to advertisements, and this hamster campaign is the perfect example. It is something that at first seems odd, but it sticks with people. I, too, laughed out loud upon watching the commercial, which is something I rarely do — I typically find commercials to be either too weird or not funny. This was the perfect balance of weird and funny.

    An example of a car commercial that I think is dry and boring is this mercedes one:

    Here is one I thought was kind of funny but not great:

    Finally, here’s a collection of a few that I think are hilarious, but still I don’t know that they’re quite up to the level of the hamster one:

    Making commercials weird is definitely what makes them funny in my opinion. If they’re straightforward and common they aren’t unique!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts – I definitely agree with you!

    1. Holy smokes that Mercedes commercial was boring, and wayyy too long. Perfect example of a brand that has the money to do extremely innovative things, but really hasn’t. The cat/Corrolla ad wasn’t as bad, but still didn’t even come close to making me laugh out loud. And I remember a lot of these ads when they originally aired…my favorite is actually the “Where babies come from” ad (which is actually by Kia, too…haha go figure). Thanks for the video feedback, that was cool!

  2. This was a great post! The hamster commercials are definitely a good way to get people to notice and remember your car. I am awful at knowing car brands and what kind of car is what, but when my friend once got a Kia Soul all he had to say was it was the car from the hamster commercials for me to know what it was. He was, however, a little embarrassed about all the “You have the hamster car?” comments from friends and this made me wonder whether or not the ad might be an incentive not to get the car, since all it has become associated with are the hamsters.

    The Facebook vs. Twitter comment discrepancies are really interesting! I wonder if the nature of the comments did not have to do so much with the social media platform, but rather by the fact that there was a picture on Facebook that people were directly commenting on. Twitter comments were more about the commercials in general, whereas the Facebook comments seemed to be a reaction to one picture post in particular.

    Great post!

    1. That’s a really good point! Having a visual right in front of you probably makes a difference, but also also being able to see everyone’s comments before could lead to groupthink (two people say they hate the new look, and it leads other to say/think they hate it too), whereas most people would tweet out their thoughts before checking to see what everyone else on Twitter had said about Kia hamsters first. (Just saw Erica’s comment below, and she talks about the same thing!)

  3. Hey Kristie – To Brooke’s point, witty, funny, weird (or some combo) can do an excellent job of creating brand awareness and improving brand recall, and marketers know that. With the sheer volume of advertising we have flooding toward us at all times, I think they have to push the envelope and think outside the box. They certainly sometimes miss the mark, but more often than not getting people talking about any advertisement is beneficial.

    I think the most interesting industry that has achieved this is car insurance. I mean, can you think of anything more boring than car insurance? But between Flo (Progressive), the Camel on Hump Day (Geico), and Mayhem (Allstate), auto insurance companies are creating lasting memories. I didn’t even have to look up who did those ads – I remember them from their fantastic campaigns! YouTube can be the perfect source for the brand, as long as the ads are worthwhile.

    1. That’s a great point–it’s interesting how some of the most “boring” companies come up with outrageous and fun ads. Just goes to show how powerful marketing can be, regardless of industry!

  4. Kristie I am a huge fan of the hamster commercials! In fact my roommate just admitted she wanted the car when she was 17, just to say she drove the “hamster car”. Now that is great marketing. Weird is definitely in. It is what sets your brand image apart from others. Everyone wants to feel that what they have is unique, so tying in a unique image to your product or brand can be the exact driving force needed to persuade people to buy what you are selling.

    I agree with Brooke as to how the comments on Kia are swayed by the content already posted. People are more likely to rush to a conclusion when there is just an image in front of them, rather than spending a minute and a half to see the whole video.

  5. Hi Kristie! I love these commercials as well, and they are constantly played in my marketing classes. Weird is definitely in, and I feel like all marketing now revolves on making the biggest “splash”. This can go either way, of course, as you can see recently with the backlash over Miley Cyrus’ “personal” marketing.

    I also agree with Brooke and Brittany’s comments about the Facebook vs. Twitter debate. I feel like tweets are more spontaneous and in reaction to seeing the commercial, and not putting as much thought into them. Facebook does give you the chance to more easily see other’s comments, as well as give you an opportunity to rewatch the commercial or see a picture.

    And don’t worry about Pepino- I’m sure he had a very happy life!

  6. I will definitely remember the Kia commercials as they do hit that nerve between funny and weird. So they have definitely created something that brings about brand awareness. As a mildly interested car person, I am pretty comfortable with naming brands and occasionally pointing out models, but Kia has been able to bring their name out to the masses, especially as some of these comments suggest, to people who just want to drive the “hamster car.”
    That being said, I think that the commercials have a target audience in mind. In regard to the Mercedes commercial, it is not the best I have seen, but I do think it worked. Being a technology person and someone who would like to own a car such as that, I found it very interesting. Mercedes is not trying to attract the same crowd as Kia and managed to make me watch AND remember all the cool technology features they have added. I honestly looked some of them up after the commercial. In respect to Kia, I laughed out loud but have 0 interest in their car and I learned nothing about what it can do. So even if they have added a cool new feature I would not know nor explore. So although Mercedes might have been the more boring commercial it caught my attention in the way Mercedes wanted.

  7. I agree that the hamster ads from Kia have been really successful and memorable. This commercial especially does a good job of promoting the Kia brand. While Kia used to make really bad cars only a decade ago, they have become serious contenders for Honda/Toyota/Nissan in the last few years, even hiring top designers from Volkswagen and Audi to design their new cars. This commercial is kind of using the hamsters as a personification of their brand, showing how hard they worked to become contenders. Regarding the debate over skinny or fat hamsters, I think they were just trying to show that they are “totally transformed” and they were successful in doing this. They also did a good job showing how much work and passion their designers and engineers put into the car with their little montages juxtaposed with the hamsters.

    I agree with Kathryn’s point that a lot of “boring” companies are using more bold marketing techniques to gain more awareness. Your example of Old Spice is another good one, since they are just selling soap and deodorant but have very memorable advertisements. I also agree with Tyrone in his assessment of the Mercedes commercial. Their cars pretty much sell themselves and they are catering to a totally different market than Kia is.

  8. Nice post. I think weird does win in social media (think Harlem Shake and What does the Fox Say). But as a business, you have to be careful of going to far, else it can hurt your brand.

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