Kia Soul Mashup: Hamsters vs. Black Sheep


My recent reentry into the ad review world has had me thinking about a seminal question: Namely, what makes a good car ad good?
Aside from promotional commercials (like spots hyping low lease payments and featuring more disclaimer type than you could possibly read in 30 seconds) or ads that focus on a very specific feature of a car (like the flipdown “man step” of the F-150), most national (as opposed to dealer-originated) car advertising sells one thing: cool.
It’s a funny business, selling cool.  For the reason that cool means something different to everyone.  One man’s cool is another man’s douchey.  But when done right, selling cool can all but steamroll any brand weaknesses.  For example, the fact that the 2010 Kia Soul is, well, a Kia.


Over the years, an easy way to sell this thing called cool in car commercials has been to co-opt a song.
Some of the more successful variants in recent memory include VW’s use of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon” in a commercial featuring the old Cabrio, as well as the Jetta “Stinky Couch” spot which repurposed “Da Da Da” by the German band Trio.  Less successful (though they stand out in their own particular annoying way) to my eyes and ears have been Mitsubishi’s Eclipse/”Days Go By” Dirty Vegas commercial and Cadillac’s use of Phoenix’s “1901” to pimp the latest SRX model.
When songs work in lieu of some larger advertising concept, I think it’s because they are both not obvious and complement the vehicle being sold — as well as its demographic target.  That’s where the Cadillac/Phoenix mash-up fails, IMO.  As far as I know, Phoenix sells well with the 20-something crowd.  Whereas the SRX is targeted toward the 40-something audience.  I know this because I briefly considered an SRX before getting a new Honda Pilot to replace our aging 2003 model.
Which brings us to the 2010 Kia Soul “Hamsters” commercial, which uses the 1991 tune “The Choice is Yours” by rap group Black Sheep as the soundtrack for a music-video-like montage of animated hamsters walking, driving, and making various hand gestures.
Creative Challenge: Kia (and its sister brand, Hyundai) have long since moved past the “Korean automotive design/build quality/driving experience leaves much to be desired” phase.  But are their vehicles cool?  Perhaps not Caterham Seven cool, but at least Ford Fiesta cool?  Based on my hands-on experience with a friend’s first-gen Sportage, methinks not.
So the bar is set about as high as the front row occupants at a Cypress Hill concert.
Concept: Kia’s agency David & Goliath had already cracked the “hey, let’s use animated hamsters” nut open on the Soul campaign, with a series of debut spots showing numerous hamsters running in stationary wheels in a variety of streetscapes.
The hero car is driven among these stationary wheels and the spot ends with the windows of the Soul rolling down to reveal its ostensibly “cooler” occupants, who are listening to some “cool” music.  Apparently the launch spot came in 3 versions, each using a different song.
I generally frown on use of animated animals in advertising, as I think it is often an example of concealing the lack of a good core concept with an expensive execution.  But somehow, the cuteness of the hamsters (and the Soul itself) and their catchy tunes juxtaposed with the squeak-squeaking of the hamster wheels just works.
As for the song D&G chose for the latest Soul commercial?  Well, it was cool in 1991 (the year I graduated from college) and it still is today.  Take that, Auto-Tuned Pop Flavor of the Month.
Execution: I very much appreciated that this commercial isn’t a frame-by-frame recasting of the original Black Sheep video, with CGI hamsters in the place of Dres and Mr. Lawnge (that’s “Mister Long” to you and me).
Instead of the circa 1991-style stand-around-and-drop-rhymes-on-‘em set up, the Kia Hamsters are shown rolling out of their crib and down their virtual block, ostensibly on the Upper Upper West Side of Manhattan (check the “Hamsterdam Avenue” sign).  They get to their car, a Kia Soul, proceed to roll out, and make comparisons to other vehicular options over the chorus of the song:  “You can go with this, or you can go with that.”
“That” always refers to something less desirable, more bland, or more appliance-like than the Soul.  Check the one shot that shows hamsters driving washing machines (or clothes dryers?) behind the Soul through the rear window.  A nice detail that is revisited in a cut-away shot later in the commercial.
Actually, I think the cut-aways which punctuate the main “rolling with my boys in my ride” storyline are my favorite things about the commercial.  The basketball court, the 5 gallon bucket drummer, the barber shop, the “ladies who lunch” coming out of a Chanel-esque boutique.  But now that I’ve said that, the only shots in the entire spot that seem off to me are the carwash and takeout stand location cut-aways.  The set design/location choice of these two place strikes me as much more LA than NYC.  Admittedly, I have not spent that much time in the outer boroughs, so they might still be correct.  Minor flaws, though.
Casting Judgment: What can I say, I’m a sucker for old school rap.  And hamsters.  But more than that, the spot which David & Goliath cooked up for the Kia Soul is just so damn well executed.
Honestly, when I saw my first Soul in person, I was let down by some of the styling cues — but really, that’s a by-product of the commercial painting such a cool picture.
RATING (on the “Hate/Not Terrible/Good/Shell-Ferrari” scale): Good

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18 responses to “Kia Soul Mashup: Hamsters vs. Black Sheep”

  1. BЯдΖǐL-ЯЄРΘЯΤЄЯ Avatar

    Korea is the new Japan, soon China will be the new Korea. (if they get their names for cars right and get the glitches out)

  2. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

    Agreed. A Soul will very likely be my next car.
    Yes, seriously.
    (Not that I expect the Town Cow to die anytime soon.)

    1. Jake Avatar

      I was looking at getting a Soul too, but I went with its big brother the Elantra Touring. Very similar specs, but the Touring has 13 cu ft more storage room in the back with the seats down, and 5 cu ft more with them up. The Soul starts at less $$, but the Touring comes with all the options standard.
      Unfortunately they both use the going-out-the-door Beta engine, but the short throw B&M Shifter is pretty fun in the Touring.

  3. Al Navarro Avatar

    I've never driven one (not the point of these ad reviews), but I have to say that I find its body less appealing (than say, a Nissan Cube) in person than in the commercial.

    1. Al Navarro Avatar

      Also, does good = cool? An Accord is certainly a good car by most measures, but it's far from cool. (Sorry Honda.)

      1. Peter Tanshanomi Avatar

        "Cool" is a difficult thing to gauge.
        The Soul handles competently, but it's not really what anyone would call sporty.
        It's comfortable inside and has fairly decent ride for an economy car, but it's not luxurious.
        What it is, is practical — plenty of passenger and cargo space, decent fuel economy. Compared to the other options in that arena, yea, it's cool.

  4. Goingincirclez Avatar

    As part of the Cynical Generation, I hate it when I *know* that advertising is working on (against?) me, for reasons I don't quite understand. This is a perfect case.
    Now the Soul is an interesting car – of the "modern kleenex brick" cars, of which I include others like the Honda Element, Nissan Cube, and Toyota/Scion xB, the Soul has long been my favorite. It possesses an authentic design character which is not half-baked like the Element, overtly Suessian like the Cube, or born-of-carpenter's-square like the 1st-gen xB. It keeps the practicality of such cars but stirs it up into a more appealing, quirky-but-not-quite-cute, not-quite-pretentious package. I found myself admiring them but at the end of the day, they were just Kias. Not gonna happen in my driveway.
    Then this ad came out, and I find my defenses lowered.
    Maybe it's because I saw all the carboard appliances, instantly equated those to Toyotas, and thought "wow, Kia gets it. I suppose I can give them the time of day in return – a friend of my enemy is a friend, after all."

    1. W. Kiernan Avatar

      Excuse me? Is that supposed to be "an enemy of my enemy is a friend"? Or was that whole "World War II" business just a wacky misunderstanding?

      1. Goingincirclez Avatar

        Er, uh… yeah. Dammit. Skipped my brefass this morning.

  5. lilwillie Avatar

    It does what it is suppose to do, for a ad that is. Which is sticks in your memory and you know the product and if someone else mentions the Soul you'll know what it is.
    But the ad itself is really annoying to me. I can't exactly tell you why it is but I know when the commercial is on I change the channel or am already hitting FF on the tivo.

  6. Baron Von Danger Avatar

    They hooked me with the song "The Choice is Yours", which instantly brought me back to '91 Black Sheep performing live on 'In Living Color' http://tinyurl.com/2bld67e. Didn't care much for the hamsters, those are just there for continuity, but they didn't take anything away. I thought having them driving a toaster, washing machine, and the cardboard box was a clever way of commenting to other companies' design. I find Kia's new design refresh/ad campaign fresh and appealing. It seem like they know who their audience is and are making a good attempt at reaching out to them. I just hope they don't go "Geico" on us and run it to the ground.

  7. alcology Avatar

    I think the ad failed because I don't want a Kia. The ad made me want a washing machine car or perhaps a toaster. In a more serious tone, if you watch the full 2 minute promo that they show in movie theaters, you rapidly hate the ad and want the hamsters to all die in a freak rolly ball accident. At least I do. Baron, this will definitely be run into the ground.

  8. dmilligan Avatar

    Cats. The ad definitely needs some cats in it, enough to eat all of the hamsters and enter to the tune of ZZ Top's "I'm bad, I'm nationwide". Then I might pay attention.

  9. Cynic Avatar

    "Man step" is just another word for "too pussy to climb into your mountain on your own".

  10. Jim-Bob Avatar

    The ad is great. it has made me take a second look at them when I see them on the road. However, no advertising is enough to make me want to buy a car. I am a person who tends to be overly logical when buying a new car, and my emotions do not usually factor in too highly in my decision making process. So why would I not buy a Soul then? I hate the whole tall car thing that everyone seems to want to sell today. It also has crummy fuel economy, a timing belt engine, and is simply too big for my needs. I am however shopping for a new car right now, and the one I am considering is not heavily marketed or highly regarded by critics. The car is the Toyota Yaris 2 door hatchback in white with no options and radio delete. Why? It is an old design, the engine dates back to the Echo, it has great city fuel economy and a reputation for reliability. Plus, it has a timing chain engine- a must in my book. I do not like it's style or some of it's details, but for the money it can't be beat. I have found them in the $10,500 range brand new by shopping around. So for me, advertising does not sell me a new car, nor does being thought of as cool. for that I use my project cars. new cars are just appliances, and for that may the lowest operating cost vehicle that fits my needs win.

  11. guest Avatar

    Not a Kia customer or even a potential one, but I've watched the ad several times and I now at least know about the car.
    Given the name, shouldn't they have used a song by De La SOUL though? Maybe that's the next commercial.

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