Branding Business Misleadership Social Media

Hyundai: Uncensored or Unbelievable?

Have you seen the recent Hyundai commercials? The friendly announcer says that recently, Hyundai put cameras into vehicles at dealerships and, according to the company’s press release, “captured the unscripted, unedited remarks of drivers as they tested various Hyundai models.”

Do you believe them?

I don’t.

Over time, anyone who’s ever shopped online and read the customer testimonials has learned how to tell fake reviews from real ones. The fake ones are usually really good or excusably bad (or really bad if they’re fakes created by competitors). Some sites don’t even bother sprinkling in a few negative reviews with the positives, but all positives are a sure sign the reviews are faked, or at least, selectively edited.

Enter Hyundai, with their “Uncensored” commercials. Not a negative comment to be heard. Well, except about Honda, Toyota and other cars. And of course, from people posting comments on their YouTube channel, such as:

laughingcrows (1 week ago)
Give us a break, your “hidden” camera commercials are really insulting.
Don’t lie to us. The American public isn’t that stupid. Or are we?

Censorship isn’t merely a sin of commission. It can be a sin of omission, too. So even if you equate uncensored to unedited, which would be a mistake because the commercials are clearly edited, the choice of only showing positive experiences and comments is in itself an act of censorship, where the negative ads are merely not shown at all.

Uncensored? Hardly.

I can’t help comparing this to the Ford Fiesta Movement, where Ford gave 100 social media storytellers Fiestas to talk about, however they wanted, on their own blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Their campaign was also met with skepticism on blogs, but to his credit, Scott Monty, head of Social Media for Ford, engaged with the negative comments and addressed them head on. So did some of the Fiesta “agents” who defended their abilities to give honest reviews, good or bad, and the freedom Ford gave them to do it.

The recent Ford Fiesta movement is considered a watershed in automobile marketing. With $0 in traditional advertising, the Fiesta, a car available only in Europe, with no history in the US, and Ford’s first subcompact car in over a decade, achieved a stellar a 58% awareness pre-release (exceeding the Ford Fusion after 2 years and hundreds of millions in traditional marketing). It garnered:

  • 11 million social networking impressions
  • 11,000 videos on YouTube
  • 6,000 reservations 4 months before the car was even available
  • 10,000 units sold in the first 6 days of sales.

All for a fraction of what a typical national TV campaign would have cost. I wonder what Hyundai spent on theirs?

Taking another play from the Ford Fiesta Movement playbook, for what they’re calling the “experiential” component of their campaign Hyundai is giving 100 cars out to people who will then discuss their experiences via social media, again ostensibly “uncensored.”

Social Media marketing is about engaging in the conversation, not editing it. It’s about being honest and earning trust. And above all, it’s about disclosing your relationships, so even if you have a bias or financial relationship, you’re not hiding it and people can judge for themselves. (Full Disclosure: I have never owned either a Hyundai or a Ford, although my parents love their Hyundai and in college I made out with a girl in a Ford Mustang.)

The Social Media marketing landscape is littered with the corpses of  unsuccessful campaigns. In the end, many of them failed because they were disingenuous, misleading or downright dishonest.

I found this interesting post on the Dennis Hyundai blog for a Hyundai dealer in Ohio.  It says:

Have you seen the new Hyundais? Come to and click on our Hyundai Uncensored Logo, tell us what you think about the new hyundais! If we choose your comments to use in our advertising, we will pay you $1,000!

The post was dated July 9, 2010, about a week after the corporate commercials began running. I’m not implying the original Hyundai Uncensored commercials were “incentivized,” but I’m willing to bet that for $1,000, Dennis Hyundai isn’t going to be using very many negative comments in their ads.

If you’re going to pursue a social media strategy, you have to be authentic.  In discussing social media, business and authenticity in this Wisdom 2.o interview, Tony Hsieh, founder of, said:

“I think that is the only way you are going to succeed. Transparency is going to happen whether you embrace it or not, so you might as well embrace it. I think that is one way to develop a personal and emotional connection.”

So can someone please explain to me what kind of connection Hyundai thinks they’re making with consumers with their Uncensored campaign? Feel free to respond honestly… I promise I won’t censor your comments.

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By jlsimons

I’m a storyteller who has spent my life focused on the things people do for fun, from games and hobbies to comic books and podcasts. I love building and managing teams of incredible people and empowering them to do the best, most fun and fulfilling work of their careers. I am also a senior level marketing executive with a unique blend of over 34 years of podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, advertising, interactive, branding, marketing, paid and organic search, direct response, analytics, and game design. Along the way, I've built a leading podcast brand and a million-plus-subscriber YouTube channel, created multinational promotions for global brands, and co-desiged critically acclaimed collectible card and role-playing games.
Oh yeah, and I write science fiction.

Specialties: Podcast marketing, social media community building, promotional partnerships, integrated marketing, social media, strategic marketing, alternate channels, direct response, corporate marketing, copywriting, advergaming, game design and development, financial advertising

12 replies on “Hyundai: Uncensored or Unbelievable?”

It’s called advertising…is this really a shock? The ads are no less credible than this sites attempt to hide the fact that it generates content in order to have visitors click on adsense in order to make money. As far as the Dennis Hyundai blog, what is wrong with offering to pay someone to be in a commercial? What is so offensive to you or your readers about that? Because the jist of the campaign is about someone’s opinion of Hyundai? You immediately assume it is false??? How naive is that? Suddenly other advertising that doesn’t focus on “an opinion or a review” is credible and should be held to a lesser standard?

Thanks for the comment, Luxury Dealer. I’m not shocked, shocked to discover that misleadership is going on here. I am arguing that social media needs to live up to a higher standard because the consumers who participate in it are demanding it from advertisers. And the Hyundai Uncensored campaign, because it has chosen to use social media in addition to broadcast because of the benefits of engaging with customers, has to accept the higher standard to which it will be held. Purely traditional advertising got away with saying outrageous things, and maybe they got nailed under Truth in Advertising standards, but not frequently. Consumers have the instant ability to react to misleading claims in social media.

Now, as far as the Dennis Hyundai blog, nothing is wrong with offering to pay someone to be in a commercial. If they disclose that their “customer testimonials” are compensated, then they’re playing by the rules. If they don’t, they’re being misleading. When paid spokesman or actors are used in testimonial advertising, white hat advertisers identify them as being paid. (And when they don’t, they can face consequences, as happened with Walmart’s “Wal-Marting Across America” fake blog fiasco.)

In terms of holding any and all advertising to a higher standard, that of honesty, respect for the consumer, and some degree of creative quality, I hold all advertising to that standard. Fake testimonials are just as repulsive as fake product benefit claims.

In terms of assuming that Hyundai test drivers opinions are false, I do not say that, nor do I assume it. There was no need to fake anything, or to lie. It’s about selective inclusion as it relates to a claim of being uncensored. If they’d said “Unscripted” that would have been totally cool. But they said Uncensored. And it’s not.

Finally, I don’t run AdSense on my blog. Not that I’m against it. I just don’t.

I completed a course in Social Influence Marketing at NYU a few months ago and one of the special guest speakers was a girl who was a “Fiesta Agent.” From listening to her experiences I would say you hit the nail on the head with your comparison of the two campaigns. She said she had total freedom to blog whatever she wanted about the Fiesta, in fact it was encouraged. (Now, granted she was given a free car so just how bad were her reports going to be!) but still, the campaign rang true.

I think one of the things Ford did right was choosing already established social media storytellers who had large audiences and who were not car types. Their credibility with their audiences was on the line. They got the use of the car for 6 months and the spotlight, but the Fiesta Movement was just one aspect of their social media personas. Plus, they knew how to create their own narratives, and therefore did really cool things with the cars, like delivering Meals on Wheels and visiting soldiers. Thanks for the comment, Keith.

just an afterthought a few days down the line: I love my Hyundai, but even I questioned how unrehearsed the supposedly off-the-cuff comments were the first time I saw the ad.

Thanks for commenting, A Fan. Just to be clear, I actually think the comments were unrehearsed and natural. I just believe they are also edited, and the choices shown were selective, rather than totally inclusive, both of which add up to censored to me.

Those “uncensored” commercials don’t look like being taped by a hidden camera AT ALL – check out the quality. Plus, I can tell most of the scenes we see in the commercials had NO WAY to be taped by a device “in” in the car but “outside” of the car. Also, check out the angles, the device (is supposed to be ‘hidden’) must be seen by the people who were in the car (commercials). Hyundai think American public is so easy to be duped. Hyundai is WRONG!

Hyundai may be wrong, Emily, but you are right, and you bring up a couple of excellent points. Image quality and the shot angle all point to them not being hidden. I just heard a ” Hyundai Uncensored” ad on the radio for a local (tri-state, NYC area) Hyundai dealer where the customer’s supposedly natural dialogue sounded like a carefully written script that touched on all the copy points and made the case to buy a Hyundai in a very professional manner. Now how many average, just-off-the-street people talk the way a marketer writes? So it’s not just Hyundai that thinks we’re easy to dupe… it’s the local car dealers as well. Not like we ever trusted car salesmen that much anyway, but still. Thanks for your comment.

I found your page while looking for criticism of this campaign. I was surprised not to find more about it online, but what you’ve said is right on the mark. I find their radio ads not only very scripted but poorly acted, as well. Is advertising like this ethical?

Thanks for your comment, Beth. In my opinion, advertising like this is not only not ethical, it is also not effective. If we’re correct, and the ads are not “uncensored”, let alone that the cameras weren’t hidden in the TV spots, and that the radio ads were not “unscripted”, then Hyundai and their ad agency have lied, and that is certainly not ethical.

But let’s not stop there.

These days, with social media and the ability for consumers to have an effective discussion about companies, their advertising, their product claims and more — like we’re doing right now — misleading ads that insult the audience’s intelligence will garner a negative response and tarnish the brand. If a brand is really the perceptions and conversations consumers have about a company, then the Hyundai Uncensored campaign is hurting the Hyundai brand, and that’s not very effective.

Thanks again for your comment.

hello i know this post is quite old now but we’re just recieving the hyundai uncensored adverts in Australia now; its exactly the same. I also went on their website and out of dozens apon dozens of comments highly complimenting hyundai’s, i found only ONE negative comment, which was about a 6 year old triburon; and that was conviniently on the LAST page of all of the testimonials.

They refer to the campaign as ‘Hyundai Uncensored’ and the fourth and fifth line of their Terms and Conditions is

“All comments submitted to the Hyundai Uncensored website are reviewed by a moderator.

By submitting a comment or post to the Uncensored website, you consent to Hyundai reproducing and publishing that content (either in whole or an edited version of the posting) in Hyundai marketing materials”

Keywords; > Uncensored
> Reviewed by a moderator
> Edited version of the posting

IMO they can’t get good reviews from an independent review website so they made they’re own.

^^ good writeup btw!

Wow, CJ, that’s some serious time delay! Thanks for sharing the Terms and Conditions. And you know there was some meeting where a lonely voice asked, “But how can we call it uncensored if we’re only picking the good ones and editing them?” And someone else said, “No worries. We’ll cover ourselves in the T&Cs.”

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