There are moments in brand history when the idea of togetherness gets in the drivers seat. “Hilltop” for Coca-Cola may be one of the best examples. Honda and Wieden+Kennedy London's “Grrr” also leaps to mind. Each could be considered successful “one-offs” to a degree — but for Kia and their agency, El Segundo, California-based independent David&Goliath (D&G), illustrating the spirit of unity is very much part of the brand and commercial story in all of its work, especially for the Kia Soul
“It’s about having fun,” said D&G managing partner, CCO, Colin Jeffery. “We’re not just making commercials here. Being inclusive is a big thing for us.”
That feeling of bringing the world together is manifest in their most recent work, “Soul Jam,” launched last week, for the Kia Soul. Bringing back the fabled and popular hamsters, the anthemic work is an homage to unity, something that Jeffery said is a hallmark for all of the work that has been created. In the spot, the hamsters join a multi-ethnic, multi-musician jam on the "Dueling Banjos" theme that brings together an entire city into a celebratory dance party to help promote the new Kia Soul line.
“We've always tried to have an underlying message in each of these campaigns,” said Jeffery. “In a world that right now is so divided, whether it's politics, geography, beliefs, whatever it is — there’s an underlying message here that maybe, in our small way, we can make people be a little more tolerant of others and make people come together a little more, or just put a bit of a smile on people's faces. It's cool to think that your work may influence society in a small way. We're very aware of what we're doing here. It's hamsters and it's a cause and it's a commercial. But there's exposure, and [the hamsters] have a following. And maybe, in a way, we can put a little positivity out there.”
The Kia brand, due in part to price point, has been a more accessible vehicle. The continued improvements in technology and style make it a darling in the category as well. For their part, though, D&G noticed that others in the “boxy car” market went for more edgy and “over-cool,” relegating them, according to Jeffery, to a more exclusive feel. At the onset the agency said “let’s just make something that’s not trying too hard to be cool. It’s just supposed to be fun.”
With that foundation in place, the agency has made it a point to capitalize on pop culture and especially music. The first spot for the brand and model set up the concept, hamsters on a wheel, going through the daily grind — with Kia Soul being the antidote to that malaise. What made that first foray unique was that five different pieces of music rotated in the same spot, purposely to create some confusion and online discussion. All were emerging acts at the time, including a then relatively-unknown Calvin Harris.
From there, Jeffery and the team went old school hip hop with Black Sheep’s “The Choice is Yours,” in a very funny and culturally relevant spot that was widely praised and effective. LMFAO, Lady Gaga and Maroon 5 also graced future spots — but D&G set out to evolve the musical profile and landed on a wide-ranging version of “Dueling Banjos.”
“We wanted to go out and do something really different,” said Jeffery. “We felt like it was time to create a ‘global sound’ and that song made sense because it had a call-and-response technique built in to it.”
Leaning on the talent of Nathaniel Rateliffe, Bunt (a German producer duo), Asdru from Ozomatli and others, the cascade of instruments and influences created delicious harmony and a big sound. Additionally, D&G brought in cultural anthropologists and musicologists to make sure that cultures were accurately represented with the right outfits and instruments.
“We learned quickly that bagpipes don’t really go well with sitar and steel drums —and you have to work hard to bring all these instruments together in an interesting way,” said Jeffery.
It all worked out for the spot and, interestingly, a bond was instantly created by the artists.
“One of the cooler things, actually, and I haven't really talked to anyone about this, is that on set, in the park, one evening when we wrapped, we were chatting and cleaning up and I turned around and there was a group of ten to fifteen of the musicians under a tree in the park. And they were all jamming, just freestyling and going for it for about a half hour, maybe forty minutes. It was really cool just to see them all together because they loved jamming together,” recalled Jeffery.
“The whole project was ambitious,” noted Jeffery. “But it was fun.”
And, clearly, it brought plenty of people together.