“Content is king.” Hyundai’s Angela Zepeda on brand awareness and impact

Headshot of Angela Zepeda, CMO of Hyundai Motor America

June 14, 2022 | By: Jareen Imam, Sr. Content and Editorial Manager

With the return of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, one of the world’s largest creative advertising festivals, marketers will be diving into present-day economic issues, discussing topics like sustainability and diversity, and celebrating best-in-class brand moments.

Ahead of the festival, Amazon Ads interviewed brand leaders, agency experts, and influencers attending Cannes Lions to learn where they think the advertising industry is heading.

We sat down with Angela Zepeda, CMO of Hyundai Motor America, to learn how Hyundai is navigating for the future. Zepeda, who’s charged with all of Hyundai’s marketing and advertising in the United States, was appointed CMO in 2019. During her tenure, her marketing team has helped transform the brand and build deeper connections with consumers, by launching ambitious marketing campaigns and leveraging influential partnerships. She’s also made Hyundai’s marketing more diverse and inclusive by launching programs like several LGBTQ-focused initiatives and hiring a dedicated African American marketing agency.

In this interview, Zepeda brings us into the auto industry, explores trends in advertising, and explains how marketers can connect with consumers through engaging content and creativity.

Did you always want to be in advertising? How about in the auto industry?

Growing up, I wanted to be a fashion designer. I grew up in Orange County, California, and I loved being creative. I loved art. But when it came time to go to college, my parents didn’t like the idea of me going to fashion school and going to New York City. I ended up going to California State University, Fullerton, which was in my backyard. I really did want to go do big things. When I got to college, I started in business. But it was like a scratch on the record for me. Fortunately, I found the communications school by accident, and I thought it was a great blend of commerce and creativity. After college, I started at the bottom of an ad agency. At the time, advertising wasn’t big in Southern California. But there were a lot of big car companies in the area. That’s how I got my auto marketing experience. It was serendipitous, but in the end, it was good for me because a car account is very big and you get an opportunity to learn a lot. Then I diversified by working in other industrial sectors. In 2016, I went back to the auto industry, and now I’m here at Hyundai.

You have had such an accomplished career in marketing, advertising, and the auto industry. What gets you excited about advertising today?

There's so much I love about advertising. Being an executive now at Hyundai, my job is very different than what I thought it would be. A big part of my job is helping to run the company operationally day to day, and knowing everything that is happening and interconnected with marketing. In some ways, advertising now has become my side hustle. I have a huge group of employees who manage that day to day because it's a big machine. But the thing I love that's happening on the advertising side is that it’s always changing and advancing. For instance, when the internet happened, there was this explosion of how we communicate with each other. It’s more complex now. We have NFTs and channel fragmentation, and we know that digital advertising can be just as expensive as traditional modes of advertising. One thing is for certain, though: Content is king. And it's got to be relevant, and it's got to be relatable. That’s still very core to everything we do at Hyundai. And at the end of the day, it's all about the creative.

Has Hyundai seen more socially aware car shoppers? And how has that impacted innovation at Hyundai and the company’s marketing strategy?

There’s a lot of interest in electric vehicles (EVs) right now. We're seeing higher adoption. And there are some macro reasons for this, like gas prices. There are also many more options. At Hyundai, we’re making EVs more accessible to consumers. We have the scale, and we're a fully closed ecosystem as a car company. Hyundai owns every part of that manufacturing process, from the iron ore mines in West Australia, to the steel mills, to the shipping logistics. Hyundai has always had a lot of electric or alternative fuel (alt fuel) vehicles in its lineup, we just didn't advertise it widely. Now, we’re seeing more consumers consider alt fuel vehicles. But I don’t think consumers are looking at alt fuel vehicles necessarily because they just care about the planet. I think they are also considering these vehicles because of the technology. That's usually the number one reason why someone picks a new car. It’s because they've got old technology and they want to upgrade.

How does Hyundai drive awareness and consideration for its brands, and how has that changed over the years?

At Hyundai, we still consider ourselves a challenger brand. Even though we've had an incredible last 24 to 36 months, we are a brand on the move. Working with Amazon Ads to help launch Hyundai’s digital showroom has been a dream, especially because Amazon is such a well-respected brand that is creating and innovating all the time. And some of the things we desired as a brand, we couldn't do by ourselves internally. That’s why working with Amazon Ads was important. The showroom is a great example of that. There's been so much collaboration we've done with Amazon Ads that has really elevated the way customers feel about Hyundai as a brand because Amazon offers the most customer-centric experience, and audiences are already on Amazon. Our Evolve showroom on Amazon had over a million visitors and 2.3 million engagements. Those numbers are massive for us. That's high engagement. Customers are not passively shopping, they're actually deeply engaging with that content. And I think it's this immersive experience on Amazon that gave customers a fresh, authentic perspective on Hyundai and who we are as a company.

It’s interesting to hear you describe Hyundai as a challenger brand, because I would never have expected to hear that. From your perspective, what are some of the challenges of brand growth today?

At Hyundai, we always say we want to remain humble and hungry. The car industry is a really competitive industry, so it's important for us to show up well. In general, it can be hard to break through and make connections with consumers in a highly competitive industry. The challenge we've been trying to figure out is how we talk to customers so that they understand us as a company. Hyundai is a sales and engineering company first and a marketing company second. But creativity and advertising can help change the destiny of a brand. And we now have executive support that agrees with us on this. The other thing we have to keep in mind is we're a big global company. Therefore, Hyundai in Korea is not the Hyundai in the US. Hyundai in Korea is completely ubiquitous. There are Hyundai department stores, vacuum cleaners, and credit cards. In the US, we’re only 5.8% market share. We’re in completely different worlds. Therefore, we need to talk to customers in a really different way here, which means new branding campaigns.

You're in leadership, and you’re making so many important moves and decisions. What advice do you have for those in the advertising industry and navigating their careers?

When you’re making a lot of fast decisions, remember that if there’s a mistake, you can pivot. There are thousands of examples of when companies didn't make the right decision, then they pivoted, and they actually came out as heroes. As a leader, know that you're going to make some mistakes. But those mistakes help make you smarter and change you for the better. At the end of the day, we're all human.

Secondly, I was a late bloomer in my career. I became a CMO for the first time at the age of 53. I have counterparts who were there a decade earlier than me. So, just remember to relax. It's really hard to compare yourself to anyone else. Everyone's on their own career journey.

Finally, enjoy what we’re doing. You’re only in competition with yourself. People get very stressed out wondering if they are going to make the right decision, and that leads to decision paralysis. Remember to keep forging forward.