While offering a high-quality product is obviously key to any automaker’s success, that’s something that most companies nowadays can accomplish. As a result, lifting a particular car or truck above the crowd with strong marketing efforts is just as important—yet it can be even harder to achieve. After all, in today’s online-oriented world, automakers aren’t just competing against themselves to be noticed, they’re also battling a 24/7 onslaught of available media from countless other sources, too. This reality is reflected in the 2011 list of America’s hottest brands, put together by the experts at Advertising Age, one of the country’s premier news sources for the advertising and marketing industry. Of the 25 brands on the "Hottest Brands" list, only three are from the auto sector: Chevrolet Cruze, Kia Soul and Jeep Wrangler. The trio earned their places on the roster by combining an impressive ability to generate both “buzz” and sales.
Ad Age recognized the Cruze’s launch campaign, which focused on the car’s ability to deliver exceptional EPA ratings without the need for sacrifices in other areas, and noted that the Cruze has “redefined” the compact segment. All parties admit the car benefited from good timing—it debuted as Japanese rivals were struggling to recover from this spring’s earthquake and tsunami—but its ability to live up to its marketing hype has helped, too.
The Cruze Eco is the most fuel-efficient gas-only car in the U.S., boasting an EPA line of 28 mpg city/42 mpg highway/33 mpg combined when configured with a six-speed manual transmission, and because Chevy was able to squeeze some extra efficiency out of the automatic-equipped model for 2012, that car can reach 26 mpg city/39 mpg highway/31 mpg combined. As a bonus, the turbocharged 1.4-liter I4 engine that enables those EPA marks is actually more powerful than the engine in the standard Cruze, providing a superior mix of fuel-economy and peppy performance.
At the same time, there’s also plenty of standard equipment on board, with all Cruze models kitted out with air conditioning, a six-speaker AM/FM/MP3 sound system with a trial subscription to Sirius/XM Satellite Radio, an adjustable steering wheel, GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control setup with traction control, the most standard air bags in its segment (10), and the latest generation of the General’s OnStar system.
Thanks to all of this, and a sharp exterior design, the Cruze has become the best-selling Chevy car in the U.S., with more than 200,000 deliveries through the end of October. That’s an improvement of more than 110 percent over the sales of the car the Cruze replaced.
When it comes to automotive advertising, it’s hard to get away from Kia’s hip-hop hamsters. Their series of spots for the Kia Soul were named Automotive Ad of the Year by Nielsen Automotive Advertising, and one of the latest, launched during the MTV Video Music Awards, is approaching 9.5 million views on YouTube.
And while the Soul itself hasn’t been quite that popular, sales are up more than 55.5 percent so far this year, with its 85,778 deliveries well outpacing sales of small cars like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and Volkswagen Golf.
The radical, rodent-approved styling is certainly part of the equation, and Kia has added improved powertrains for the Soul’s 2012 refreshing, along with some nice option and design enhancements. Handling the cog-swapping duties for the current model year is a new pair of six-speed transmissions—an automatic and a manual—while the base Soul’s 1.6-liter engine gains gasoline direct-injection technology for an extra 16 hp and a 10 percent boost in fuel economy; the bottom line here is now 138 hp and EPA marks of up to 27 mpg city/35 mpg highway—the latter being a best-in-class figure. The Soul+ and Soul! holster a new 2.0-liter I4 engine for 2012 that makes 164 hp—22 more than last year and the most in the segment—yet still rings up EPA ratings of 26 mpg city/34 mpg highway.
In addition, the Soul will be the first vehicle in its competitive set to offer fuel-shutoff technology, coming in 2012. The Soul’s “Idle Stop/Go” system stops the engine when the car stops (e.g., in traffic or when waiting for a traffic light) then seamlessly and automatically restarts when it’s time to go.
When one of your chief marketing initiatives is based on a partnership with one of the year’s top entertainment debuts—the launch of the “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” videogame—ending up among Ad Age’s “Hottest Brands” is a foregone conclusion. Which brings us to the 2012 Jeep Wrangler. The iconic off-roader’s ongoing relationship with the highly popular videogame series has upped the brand’s profile among a new generation of buyers, as has the limited-edition “Call of Duty” Wrangler that’s available here in the real world.
Just as significant, however, have been the comprehensive upgrades showered on the Wrangler during the past two years. The 2011 model year saw the introduction of an entirely new interior that boasts the kind of amenities and attention to detail customers demand in a 21st century vehicle. For 2012, Jeep has dropped in an all-new powertrain with a five-speed automatic transmission (the proven six-speed manual remains the standard unit) and the Chrysler Group’s highly acclaimed Pentastar V6 engine. Either combination is now good for 285 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque, reflecting increases of 40 percent and 10 percent respectively, and a noticeable 10.5 percent increase in highway fuel efficiency (which is up to 21 mpg).
The Wrangler revisions have led to a slew of other awards this year as well, with the Jeep being named:
• “4X4 of the Year” by Petersen’s 4-Wheel & Off-Road Magazine
• Among the “Hottest” vehicles at this year’s Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) show
• “Best Value Off-Road” in the 2012 Active Lifestyle vehicle awards
• “Mid-Size SUV of Texas” by the Texas Auto Writers Association
Both ALG and Kelley Blue Book’s kbb.com also recognized the Wrangler as offering the best resale value in its class.