WASHINGTON – South Korean automaker Kia has raised the profile of its brand in the United States through a combination of memorable ad campaigns and support for sporting and cultural events.
When Kia debuted in the US market more than 20 years ago, the brand was at the bottom of the list in terms of consumer perception.
But last month, the J.D. Power 2018 U.S. Initial Quality Study showed Kia as the highest-ranking Mass Market brand for the fourth straight year, ahead of luxury automakers such as Porsche, Lexus, and BMW.
While Kia executives are proud of the tremendous advances in quality, the brand’s growing appeal in the US, especially among Hispanics, is also due in part to the company’s sponsorship of sports and cultural initiatives.
One example is Kia’s involvement with The Association, an indoor-soccer league in Los Angeles comprising teams created by companies such as SpaceX, Beats by Dr. Dre, and Red Bull.
For the league’s July 5 final, Kia included a cultural element by inviting Mexican-born artist Sara Sandoval, who designed the shirts worn in The Association’s all-star game.
Sandoval, who is prominent on the Los Angeles graffiti scene, revealed four months ago on her popular YouTube channel, “Simply Sara Art,” that she is among the hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “Dreamers.”
The term refers to foreign-born youths who were brought to the United States illegally as children.
In Sandoval’s case, she was in high school when she learned that due to a mistake by the family’s lawyer, she remained undocumented even though her siblings were US citizens.
“I really appreciate that The Association (with sponsorship from Kia and Adidas) is giving me this opportunity. Like the majority of Dreamers, I just want to be treated like any other citizen and to have the same opportunities,” Sandoval told EFE.
Prior to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, launched in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama to address the plight of the Dreamers, she could not use PayPal to sell her art or monetize her YouTube channel.
Sandoval said that Kia’s choice of her design for The Association’s shirts was very important for her career.
“I’m honored any time someone is interested in my art. Even more when it’s a company or an event that will help me have my art seen by even more people,” she said.
Last year, Kia sponsored a nationwide US tour by bloggers Ada Rojas and Rocio Mora, who created a performance piece highlighting common social stereotypes about Hispanic women in general and Afro-Latinas in particular.
For Kia, sponsoring artists and events that other companies might see as too edgy has become a powerful marketing tool.
“Kia is a young and innovative brand. Our Latino customers are very important to us and the ability to provide unique experiences that support their interests as well as their community is the reason we do these kinds of events,” a company spokesman told EFE.