Cracking the Pomplamoose – Hyundai case

We all watched heroic amounts of TV over the holidays.

All of us saw the Hyundai ad that features Pomplamoose, the American music indie duo.

The Hyundai-Pomplamoose campaign looped the loop. It went from odd to charming to familiar to contemptible to irritating in about 3 weeks.

We can guess what happened.  Hyundai discovered they had a hit on their hands.  The campaign was doing good things for the brand and more to the point it was moving cars.  So they sold the heck out of it.

Poor Pomplamoose!  In a daring strategy for which I applaud them, they took this campaign as an opportunity to play pilot fish, to travel with the Hyundai shark for a short while in the hopes of sharing small bits of its dinner.  And they got consumed in the process.

Now, some people will say, "Look, no band should do a deal with the devil.  Pomplamoose got what they asked for."

Maybe.  Certain kinds of indie "cred" do depend precisely on keeping one’s distance form a project of this kind.  But for everyone who isn’t a culture-never-commerce separatist, the Hyundai-Pomplamoose case is an opportunity for illumination.  I mean, Honda used "Holiday" as their sound track for the holidays, and I bet it was great for Vampire Weekend’s iTunes sales.  Refusing all truck or barter because it sometimes goes wrong is shortsighted.

The question: what’s the best way for a small cultural enterprise like a comic, a playwright, or, in this case, a band, to maximize this opportunity and minimize this risk.

First things first.

1) Did this campaign loop the loop?  (For all I know everyone hated it from beginning.  Or, everyone loved it from the beginning and they still love it.)  What we need is data.  I am no master of the methodology but I bet someone could run the numbers for the twitter and blogging world and tell us what the "shape" of adoption was.  Did it loop the loop?  What was the loop?  How fast did this happen?  Where is sentiment now?

2) Why did this campaign loop the loop?  Is it the fact that Pomplamoose created the campaign?  I guess "creative control" was one of the reasons Pomplamoose was interested in making it.  And I guess that the handmade aspect of the spots was what interested Hyundai. Now they had "artisanal advertising."  How very fashionable, how very effective.

3)  Hey, presto, the bargain worked.  Both parties were happy.  And the campaign in the early days tumbled obliging down the Kauffman continuum, from weird, to odd, to charming. Job well done.  Culture and commerce had found a way to work together.  Let’s all join arms and sing the hymn to "win-win."

4)  Then things went wrong, badly wrong.  By sometime in the second week I was hearing people (and by "people," I mean, my wife, Pam) say, "Oh, god, not them again."

I think the problem has to be repetition.  We were obliged to watch the campaign so many times, charming turned coy.  Coy got irritating.  The campaign was pushed down the Kauffman continuum and became unendurable.

5)  One take-away: Pomplamoose should have restricted how many times the ads could be played.  And now they question, assuming this is possible, what number?  Half the number of times the campaign did play?  (Would Hyundai still have been interested?)  A quarter?

6)  But this is not just a Pomplamoose problem.  When people started to react against the campaign, they were now repudiating Hyundai as well.   It was actually in the Hyundai interest to restrict circulation.  What was Hyundai’s magic number?

7) Not all ads are created equal.  Not all "content" is the same.  I think part of the problem here comes from the fact that this was an artisanal campaign and these are delicate things. They take much of their power from whimsy.  And whimsy is perishable.  It’s natural enemy is repetition.  There are several "magic numbers."

8) The cultural, creative take away: when the campaign uses meanings of this kind, care must be taken.  What makes a "hand-made" ad powerful is the very thing that makes it vulnerable.

I can hear a couple of protests:

9) I can hear people insist I’ve found a new way to state the obvious.  They will say "repetition killed this ad.  Because, duh, repetition kills every ad."  In point of fact, there are ads I love despite the fact that I have seen them hundreds of times. So there is no simple rule of thumb.  Hyundai, with or without Pomplamoose, could have made a campaign that would have stood up to this constant repetition.

10)  From the brand manager, I hear another protest altogether, one that says, "look, I took a big risk running this campaign.  The huge response was my reward.  I hit a gusher. My job was to work the gusher."  To which the answer is, "you are not actually engaged in oil discovery here.  You are drawing on and giving to a culture.  It will give you opportunities and snatch them away the moment you overplay your hand."  The Cluetrain manifesto chaps like to say that marketing is a conversation but they are wrong.  Marketing is more difficult and less durable than a conversation. It is much more like a performance on any big city stage (Carnegie or Apollo). The audience is filled with people who are very good at listening.  Some of them are very good at producing.  Hyundai Xmas performance was a little like someone producing one successful performance of Mozart or Michael, and then to everyone’s astonishment playing it over and over and over again.

11)  Repetition is one way we master culture.  It is what moves new things down the Kauffman continuum from the "too new" to the "just right."  (See my book Flock and Flow for more on the continuum.)  It is also the way, we taken novelty and stuff it into the air extracting, shrink wrapping compactor to which we consign almost everything we love.  And this is why advertising and other kinds of marketing are NOT like a performance.  Repetition is not only OK, it’s obligatory.  But we must use it in a most precisely measured way. Because once something is done, it’s entirely done.  Happily, artifacts can be managed on the continuum and they can refreshed.  We can slow the trip to the compactor.

12)  Last thoughts.  I admire the courage exercised by Hyundai and Pomplamoose in giving this campaign go.  I think it’s up to the rest of us to figure out what went wrong and why.

13)  The bigger picture, it seems to me, is this.  We have a world of advertising that is desperate for innovation and creative partnerships.  Some of the meanings that brands need cannot be produced by the conventional agency.  We have a world of cultural producers, millions of people at this point, who are very good at producing meanings, and they would be glad of the exposure and the revenue that partnership makes possible.

14)  It’s up to the likes us, people who loiter at this intersection and others like it, to figure out how to smooth the connection and build the relationship.  And by "people" in this case I mean, yes, Pam, but also Robert Barocci and Todd Powers at the Advertising Research Foundation, Geoffrey Precourt at WARC, Sam Ford at Peppercom, Ben Malbon at Google Creative Labs, Bud Caddell at Victors and Spoils.  That’s just to name a few.

15) The immediate question, to put it in the language of a Harvard Business School case study, is this:

You are Pomplamoose or Hyundai.  What would you do?

16) The larger question:

How do we solve questions of this kind?

17) The still larger question:

How do we put culture and commerce at one another’s disposal?


Levine, Rick, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Jake McKee. 2009. The Cluetrain Manifesto: 10th Anniversary Edition. Anniversary Edition. Basic Books.

McCracken, Grant. 2006. Flock and Flow: Predicting and Managing Change in a Dynamic Marketplace. Indiana University Press.

96 thoughts on “Cracking the Pomplamoose – Hyundai case

  1. Brill

    If people don’t get off the term ‘indie rock’ in reference to this band, 90s indie rock is going to reform just to secede from the term.

    See how awesome the internet is?
    This band probably didn’t even KNOW how whack they come off. Internet: 1, Music: -1.

  2. Sam Ford

    If the response in the comments section of this post is any indication, Grant, the topic really strikes a nerve with people one way or another. That passion in and of itself is worth studying. What is it about this ad in particular, and the story around it, that drives people to want to talk about it at the expense of others? Considering that a fair number of these commenters are not regular readers of your blog, I’m interested in why this story has spread and, as the manger of Pomplamoose says above, why so many are talking about it re: indy bands, re: advertising, and so forth…

    I do think that, to your point of “loop the loop,” all creative industries run the risk of repetition ruining the great cultural insight they initially had (as copycat reality shows, “me-too” apps, and an endless string of examples demonstrate). Seems the most successful groups find a way to achieve “variation on a theme” with a series of spots in short order (or multiple versions running simultaneously). I wonder if that idea…a stream of content rather than “the ad”…may be part of the answer to avoiding this pitfall…How do you “build the story” of Pomplamoose/Hyundai debuting together. If the ad runs in part by introducing this act to a massive audience, then we might want to move beyond hello quicker than we would with some other types of campaigns…

    On the other hand, for the types of ads we don’t mind endless repetition, what might be the difference? Perhaps some ads become the perfect illustration of something we always thought but could never articulate (Robert Penn Warren said the greatest ideas were the ones when, once spoken, expressed something we’d always known), and those are the pieces we have endless patience with?

    All great questions to pose. Look forward to the continuing debate (and thanks for the shout-out).

    1. Grant Post author

      Sam, yes, I am a little surprised by the intensity of feeling and how hostile some of the comments are. Mary Douglas would have an explanation for this, perhaps. Does this ad dare bring together parts of culture that people prefer to keep separate. And do they react vituperatively to defend this separation? It feels like highly motivated incivility. If only we could ask an anthropologist…

  3. The Bobs

    It’s great to see Jack Conte on the thread.

    I didn’t see the commercial even once, so I guess I watch different stuff than most people.
    I saw one of Pomplamoose’s video posted as a joke by someone who hated it. I liked it and wasn’t the only one. After that I went to the YouTube page and watched more of the videos, which I like even more.

    last might I hooked up my laptop to the flat screen and showed it to my wife, who also liked it very much. We especially liked the rendition of “La Vie en Rose”.

    Congratulations to Jack and Nataly on their success. We are now subscribers.

    My wife had a question for Jack or the Hyundai guy, did they/you get to keep the car?

  4. schizuki

    Behold the power of the Instanlanche!

    Oh, and Koblog – lighten up. If Jack Conte can gracefully accept that his band isn’t for all tastes, then you can tolerate someone having their own opinion of something that you have nothing invested in but your teen-girl fandom.

    1. Koblog

      “Fan-girl?” Please.

      I’m a 58 year old video producer and never heard of the band until Glenn Reynolds ID’d them.
      I listen to podcasts, not indy bands. But as someone who has struggled producing 30-sec commercials,
      I do appreciate the fresh approach and never tired of the ad. Neither did my wife. So there! Nyaah, nyaah.

      The author asked if the ad looped. I say no.
      Considering how many very slick, very expensive spots are abject failures, this ad is a fabulous success. But that’s not the point.

      My “remora” comment concerns my disgust with critics who don’t produce anything but are self-authorized to pronounce genuine risk-taking producers “so over.” Perez Hilton comes to mind. People famous for being famous who couldn’t plug in a mic cable….

  5. Steven

    I loved it and I still love it.

    Pomplamoose has talent and at youtube, they’ve millions of hits to prove a lot of others like their music, too.

    58 going on 20.

  6. mighty hudson

    I loved it and I still love it.
    Pomplamoose has talent and at youtube, they’ve millions of hits to prove a lot of others like their music, too.
    56 going on 20.

  7. David

    After seeing the ads hundreds of times (news junkie) I still love em.
    Many of the haters think Nataly is intentionally cloying, to me it just
    looks like that’s how she honestly is. Women are born to attract men
    (and the reverse too).
    I’ll date myself here and say that Nataly’s delivery and presence
    is reminiscent of Nico who certainly had an interesting career. And
    Nataly writes songs reminiscent of early Lou Reed (compare Another
    Day and Sunday Morning) when he worked with Nico.
    Nataly and Jack are making a great start in a tough business and I
    hope their success continues, and that they can now afford to tour!

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  9. Josh Cole

    I think you are missing one important point. This is not a “band” in the normal sense of the word.
    They make music videos and layer a ton of tracks. That’s it.
    Look on youtube for some of their live performances. Not the same.
    From this perspective, a major ad campaign where they get paid is the pinacle of success.
    So good for them. There is no bad result. They get more eyeballs, and keep building there fanbase — their youtube fanbase.
    Hyundai certainly got their money’s worth too.

    To agree with you though, I think where the campaign jumped the shark was where Pomplamoose broke out the Hyundai event t-shirts.

    1. tunelaw

      Not sure what your definition of a “band in the normal sense” is.

      Pomplamoose IS a band in all senses of the word, actually, practically, and (err. . . ) legally.

      Here is a link to their performance on New Year’s eve recapturing every element of that particular song (yes, previously over-dubbed, as are ALL bands’, artists, and other musical recordings):

      Also disagree about the “pinacle (sic.) of success” statement (to the extent you mean that they’re a band SOLELY so they can get commercials? – whaa??). However, you do mention fanbase building, so perhaps you didn’t mean it that way?

      But yeah, good for them on all levels.

      1. Josh Cole

        What I meant is that their success has come as a result of their “video song” format, and not from traditional performance channels.
        They are both a sound and a look, that can’t really be pulled off live. They also haven’t been as successful off of original compositions.
        Their success is built on being video song cover band — not the normal sense of band.

        So, in my opinion, the best they can do with that success is get paid to make video songs for other people.
        It seems like even youtube is paying them to make videos. Maybe they are selling a lot of product, I don’t know.

        That video you sent is a great example — 208 views. BUt then again it sounds like a packed house.. Their live show doesn’t actually pull off what they’ve been successful at.
        I would be delighted to see them succeed in the live arena. I think the way they have blazed a trail of success is fantastic.But it requires a translation of what they do.

        And that show you link to doesn’t actually use overdubs, it’s actually live. Listen again. Kudos to them.

  10. Shannon

    A couple more thoughts to add to the mix. I’m in the advertising industry and married to a musician who makes a living teaching and playing music. So this ad and post interested me right away (though I took several days to comment). But I’m not alone….clearly this ad and partnership has struck a cultural chord (uh, no pun intended).

    For those that recognized the ad was a band/Youtuber+brand partnership, this is fascinating because it challenges the way things have previously been done. It’s new territory for all three parties – brands, content creators, and viewers.

    Let’s also not forget that people don’t hold back on their opinions about both advertising and music. And advertising that incorporates music can be powerful, whether in a particular instance it’s positive or negative. The new and interesting part, in this case, is that the advertising content is now coming from directly outside the advertising industry (it was done in the Pomplamoose Youtube style, with the band in full creative control).

    “Selling out” seems irrelevant these days when it comes to music. Jack’s thoughts on the future of making money playing music are spot on. I think music fans get that bands need to make a living and they certainly aren’t going to be doing that by selling their music. Okay not all fans, but a growing number of them. Take, for instance, the Millennial generation. Coming of age with file sharing in full force, their expectations for free helped drive this current situation, yet, their savviness with marketing and entrepreneurship seems to translate into more acceptance of this kind of brand-band partnership. Plus, from what I can tell on Youtube, it seems that the spirit of their pre-commercial fan base was “good for you” more than anything else.

    Was this endeavor a success? From what I know, I’d say so.

    Clearly, the viewing experience was different depending on both, whether you knew the band first or not and whether you liked their music or not. I knew of the band from Youtube and was pleased to find that their use in the ad was true to how they represent themselves on Youtube. My husband and friends didn’t know who they were, and so it wasn’t as meaningful to them. However, I can tell from the comments on the Pomplamoose Youtube Channel that people who didn’t know who they were but loved it sought them out.. Fabulous for the band – as any more people know who Pomplamoose is today than they did two months ago. Check out the spike that occurred in search at the end of the year: Plus, take a look at social mention and you’ll see the top keyword associated with Pomplamoose is Hyundai.

    What would have made it better?

    They must have been targeted me and my companions because I did see the spot about 10+ times over the course of a few 2-3 hour viewing sessions. If I was intended to see the spot that many times, then boy was there a missed opportunity to vary it up, offer a surprise, or play more with the fact that I had my laptop right there in front of me. That’s where things are getting really interesting in the advertising and media world.

    Frequency aside, the spot was still airing, full force, after Christmas, even post-New Year’s Day. Given the Christmas season starts after Halloween, I’m not sure how much tolerance people have for Christmas carols post New Year’s Day.

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  12. SPool

    Hi, I am a creative strategist at the ad agency who created these ads.
    There are a lot of very, very interesting questions and points of debate here that I assure you we have had, and continue to explore. It’s not a one-answer solution, is it?

    Perhaps when we get our numbers in, I will ask if I can have a proper conversation with you all about the effectiveness; about the strategy; and wax poetic about our thoughts on the culture / commerce paradigm.

    I would like to point everyone to Jack’s note on this post as it brings up extremely implicit thoughts for the future of many of us: artists, advertisers, corporations, people. What does it mean for a band (or creator) to sellout today? Is corporate America really the bad guy when they might be the only ones we can count on to be patrons for the arts, especially in the increasingly more complicated and disparate media +promotions fields? Look at what Levi’s and Converse have been doing lately with promoting talent – acting as a platform or a benefactor. And now, we (the arts) may have to rely on corporate media even more heavily as the future of arts programs in schools may become officially sponsored.

    Fascinating stuff.

    And, as Jack mentioned, much of the great art of our time has been commissioned. They haven’t sold out, they’ve smarted up. It IS hard out there for a creator of ANY sort of content to find meaningful footing today. We all know that. Why is so much of web content today “branded”? Because, it’s (relatively) easy to make it, it is very easy to put online, but how the hell does any individually creative entity promote it? Everyone is puzzled. Wicked problem. Google’s on it! SO, is this a model or ecosystem or whatever-the-hell-you-want-to-call-it for the future of art, promotion & commerce (even if it is somewhat clumsy)?

    Appreciate all of the thoughtful input here!

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  14. Kevin

    Maybe they did wear a bit on the nerves. But there is an option, change
    the channel, or watch something like HBO. Also, Pomplamoose saw an
    opportunity and took it. Is that not the American way?

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