The New Social Contracts

One of the keys to a successful social marketing campaign — or any campaign — is the degree to which it’s built on something that’s inherently talkworthy. Seth Godin has written about it in “Purple Cow” (which derived its name from his son’s observation that a purple cow would indeed be remarkable), and countless blog posts and bits of social media have documented experiences that truly stood out.

So it was when Rich Harwood, blogger and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, sent me a post about Hyundai’s Assurance program. You can watch the commercial on YouTube, from Goodby Silverstein and Partners, that introduced the program.

The Hyundai Assurance works like this: First, you buy a new Hyundai. Then, if during the next year you lose your income, Hyundai will take it back, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.

It’s common for any auto finance company to take your car if you can’t pay for it; countless country music songs stand as testament to this harsh reality. Instead, the car company will take the car back without a penalty. That’s remarkable and makes this such a perfect social campaign right now.

It’s so remarkable that purchase intent for Hyundai automobiles rose 15 percent with the launch of this campaign, according to In this market, any increase would be welcome, let alone a 15 percent rise in intent, an achievement that would be welcome in any market. The campaign concept was borne out of the realization of what the economy feels like to consumers: it’s a truly empathetic response to a dire market condition.

Dave Zuchowski, Hyundai of America sales VP, understood that the clutter factor around the balance of the industry ads — built on concessions, prices breaks, and similar short-term efforts — was incredibly high. So Hyundai asked a simple question: What does it feel like to be sitting right here, right now?

The answer? “I’m scared that if I lose my job, this new car, any new car, is going to be big problem for me.” So the car manufacturer tackled that and cut through everything else in the process while laying a foundation for a strong social program. Which brings me back to Harwood.

Harwood defined the Hyundai Assurance program as the basis of a new social contract between buyers and sellers, in this case auto manufacturers and consumers. This kind of thinking is core to the effective use of social media marketing.

The emergence of a stronger, more visible social contract as a marketing extension isn’t coincidentally occurring at a time when consumer-generated media and social media are gaining marketing influence. This campaign is absolutely genuine. Ironically, the biggest problem Hyundai faces now is convincing people that this offer is real.

What would marketing be like in general if all campaigns exhibited the same degree of empathy as this one? Sure, Hyundai wants to sell more cars. And, it’d probably sell a few more if it cut the price (actually, it’s already low) or extended the warranty (at 10 years/100,000 miles, it’s already among the longest) or gave buyers free ScotchGard or rust proofing (already comes with that, too).

Instead, it jumped to a different curve, and increased the tangible value of the relationship between company and customers in the process. Hyundai effectively said, “Buy from us, and if you get into economic trouble later on, we’ll help you out.” Outside of those occurring in actual families, you’d be hard pressed to find business and financial transactions based in that kind of commitment.

What does all this have to with social media marketing? Given the inherently social nature of this campaign — meaning it’s talkworthy and the kind of message that people will naturally share — the social conversation is already happening.

Social media doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s part of the larger marketing context, just as it’s part of the larger content library that’s open to ordinary people. Social media builds and amplifies what people find interesting, regardless of where it came from.

On Twitter, @PLRVideos said, “I saw this on TV the other day and thought that those that can think ‘Outside The Box’ are the ones that will rise to the top.” @BenAckkerman said, “Ok, Hyundai assurance really blows me away. Great idea on their part,” while @Imantion said, “Genius marketing. Return car if you finance/lease vehicle and lose income. Reduces risk of taking on new obligation.”

Sure, there are skeptics too, recalling the “Repo Man” and similar images. Consider, though, that all of these comments are now at the center of the next round of Hyundai’s work: to assure people that this offer is genuine.

On the social Web, a skeptical public actually helps drive interest, and in this case takes more potential buyers one level deeper into a correct understanding of the Hyundai program. More validation of the simple premise that when you start a social campaign with a genuine, consumer-centric offer, all roads lead (eventually) to success.

Hyundai’s new social contract is a campaign that’s aimed right at the consideration phase of the purchase funnel, deep in the customer’s mind. It’s a place where there is surprisingly little clutter. Be there, or be square.

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