Kia seeks emotional connection with Robo Dog Super Bowl spot

Is Kia‘s Robo Dog here to stay?

The cute electronic canine has a star turn in Kia’s 13th Super Bowl spot, which features the EV6. The dog, longing for an owner, chases down the battery-electric crossover with hopes that the driver will take it home.

Kia created adorable ambassadors before with its dancing hamsters. The hamsters weren’t meant to be long-term characters, but they ended up sticking around because they were a hit with viewers, said Russell Wager, vice president of marketing for Kia America.

Wager wouldn’t rule out the chance of the same thing happening with Robo Dog if there’s a similar public reaction.

Kia released the spot online Feb. 3, well before the Super Bowl this Sunday. The ad is bolstered by a larger social campaign on TikTok where users can dance with Robo Dog. The brand this week also launched an augmented reality experience, or “Robo Dogmented Reality,” where the dog appears in the user’s environment when they look through their phone camera. The company said the augmented reality component allows users to search for adoptable animals in their areas through a partnership with the Petfinder Foundation.

Reporter Vince Bond Jr. spoke to Wager and Marisstella Marinkovic, Kia America’s director of marketing operations, about the origins of Robo Dog and the inspiration for the ad. Here are edited excerpts.

Q: What was the inspiration for the spot? Why was the EV6 the focus?

A: Wager: We’re trying to show people that we are now a legitimate player in the electrified space. EV6 is the first vehicle on our dedicated E-GMP platform and really our first major effort from our Plan S strategy that’s showing that we’re committed to this area. From a volume standpoint, yeah, you wouldn’t put EV6 in the Super Bowl, but it’s not about EV6. It’s about showing that the brand is now somebody that you should consider when you’re looking for electric vehicles. It’s also arriving, as we speak, this month in dealerships for the first time.

The idea was we wanted people to be emotionally connected with us. The car looks great, but we wanted to find a story that people go, “OK, EVs can look good; they can help my lifestyle.” And it’s something, regardless of if it’s an EV, the EV6 is a great vehicle. So we started there, and we found the idea of like, how are we going to demonstrate something about this car and make this car a hero? The idea was, well, maybe there’s some other electronic thing that we can associate it with, so the idea was create a Robo Dog.

Could Robo Dog be like a mascot for the company going forward?

Wager: You obviously remember our Kia Soul hamsters that we’ve done. We actually never had any plans to make the hamsters any sort of mascot or long-term vision with the brand. But consumers warmed up to them, loved them, and we reacted to that, so we continued the story. We’ll see how consumers react to Robo Dog, and then we can go from there.

Do EVs give automakers a chance to be more creative with advertising?

Wager: I think it allows us to reinvent the space. How do you get people to get over their fears? First fear is, will I run out of charge, right? The second fear is, how long is it going to take to charge? Third fear: Do I have to sacrifice on how the car looks? So if you think about EV6, it has over 300 miles’ range. It has fast charging; it can go from 10 [percent] to 80 [percent] in less than 18 minutes. And then it also looks like a great car. EV or not, it’s an amazing design. I think we’ve addressed some of the concerns, and that gives us the freedom to tell that in different ways. TikTok, Dogmented Reality; we’re doing a [nonfungible token] of the Robo Dog.

Was Robo Dog the source of a lot of hard work during the production process?

Wager: He is definitely all CGI. We had a stand-in dog when we were filming. There are over eight CGI artists, over 2,000 hours of CGI artistry going on this thing. We’ve been doing this for months. There’s been a couple of times we’re like, “It doesn’t look like a real dog” or “It doesn’t look like he’s happy.” We wanted the emotion to come from the dog as well, and the eyes of the dog and the tongue of the dog, so there were a lot of long nights to get there.

Was Robo Dog the first thing that was created for the spot?

Wager: First, we actually shot the spot, and then we created him.

Do you feel Robo Dog will help the ad resonate with viewers?

Wager: It’s a story of a dog that didn’t have a home that finds a home, right? Last year, over 23 million Americans adopted a pet, so this is definitely something that people are going to be relating to, especially in this COVID era. Unfortunately, some people went back to the office and had to give pets back to shelters, and that’s why we’re tying in with the [Petfinder Foundation] because we want those pets to find forever homes. I think it’s a story that people either experienced themselves of getting a pet or are looking to help other pets get their forever homes.

How did you feel when you first saw the spot?

Wager: The first time we saw a rough cut, we didn’t know what music we would put on or not put on, and the spot was good, and the emotion was good. But we just felt like it could be one extra heart tug, and that’s when they put a couple of different tracks on, and we all listened to [Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart”]. Everyone’s like, “This is it.” It just makes you cheer for the dog. You want the dog to catch the EV6 and the owner. Then, all of a sudden, it runs out of juice and you’re [like] oh, my goodness, what happened? And then you realize that the EV6 and the owner helped recharge the dog, and you’re so happy. Then the dog is so happy in the car. When we saw that, we know, regardless of what the reactions for the majority of the 100 million people are, people are going to like this. They’re going to emotionally connect with it. In some of our early testing, that’s already happened.

Kia chose to release this spot well before the game. What are the benefits of doing that?

Wager: This will be our 13th ad now, and we’ve done it many different ways. We’ve done it where we wait and don’t do anything, and we just wait for the Super Bowl day. There’s a lot of things happening when you’re watching the Super Bowl at home. You’ve got friends over, you run to the fridge, you can’t watch every single thing. What we found is we were missing some of the people if we waited. If you start the conversation earlier, then on Super Bowl Sunday, you have people saying, “Let’s watch the Super Bowl spot from Kia. I’ve seen that one.”

Marinkovic: The whole point, as Russell was saying, is really about deciding what is that moment in time close to Super Bowl where you can ramp up that conversation, and what is the snackable content that you’re doing along the way? It’s not just about dropping the spot on a certain day. But what else are you doing? How are you continuing that conversation? How are you engaging people on the road to Super Bowl and beyond?

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