Kia's Dean Norbiato details the brand game plan behind its Australian Open and 2023 strategy

GM of marketing catches up with CMO to talk brand building, creative execution, media effectiveness and more

Challenging brand perceptions to elevate quality and drive emotional connection to Kia’s broadening product portfolio is the name of the game as the automotive manufacturer partners with the Australian Open for the 22nd year.

Speaking to CMO in the midst of the latest Australian Open tournament, Kia GM of marketing, Dean Norbiato, described this year’s Kia activation and creative approach as a concerted step forward in a multi-year, whole-of-business effort to bolster brand. The long-term aim is to elevate Kia from attributes like ‘cheap’ and ‘family’ and to challenge latent perceptions of perceived quality versus actual quality.

“What can we do to challenge that metric, drive rejection levels down, and engage in top-of-funnel, crunchy brand work as a business is our central focus,” Norbiato said. “It’s about what steps we can take to build the brand, as opposed to taking steps that are short term or move metal for the sake of it. It needs to be enhancing the brand in the future.”

The star of this year’s Kia AO activation is the new electric halo model, the EV6 GT, a tech and innovation-heavy car which can achieve speeds of 100km/h in 3.5 seconds. The vehicle has been perched atop a near 10-metre illuminated ramp to give the illusion that it’s ‘flying’. An associated geometric arch display has LED insets featuring Kia ambassador and Australian of the year, Dylan Alcott, who goes through the car’s array of performance features.

The Kia Wave activation is in complement to the overarching ‘Enjoy your flight’ campaign, a cross-channel program of work running across the first quarter of this year. Accompanied by the iconic Flying Theme ET by John Williams, the campaign was shot across natural Australian landscapes such as Lake Gairdner in South Australia, footage which also features prominently in the AO activation.

“If I look back to 2016, our AO activation was a shrine to our seven-year warranty,” Norbiato said. “It’s funny to see how we have moved from talking about something so rational to now heroing our new halo electric vehicle, having it elevated 9m on platform, looking like it’s about to launch into orbit. It’s a shift from taking leads and educating on a warranty proposition, as opposed to leaning into emotional cues and having people leaning into seeing and interacting with the Kia activation.

“Hopefully we’re moving from a single perception to challenging that into the new brand direction and key brand attributes we’re looking to stand for. It’s a seismic shift from one to the other, one we are proud of.”

Brand building

Kia is now Australia’s third-largest selling car brand, shifting up from 12th in 2015. Norbiato attributed this trajectory to a commitment to sustainable growth.

“We probably could have discounted more cars to grow market share more quickly, but it would have been unsustainable,” he commented. “We have taken the longer road to build the brand through that period.”

Norbiato agreed the Covid-19 pandemic and unprecedented demand for domestic transport, supply shortages and disposable income available presented a unique opportunity for automotive brands to shift gears from retail to brand building.

“It’s market behaviour we hadn’t ever seen, and we won’t see forever,” he continued. “But it’s still tough. The industry is so conditioned to retail. It’s hard to have a step change away from that. Dealers are also doing that at a local area marketing level. While it’s easy to see as a big picture, to execute across an entire business, and get everyone buying in, has been a lot more difficult than it seems.

“I’m actually very interested to see how the market turns out in 2023 – in terms of retail versus brand building. Most OEMs have been on a brand building mission, but it’ll be interesting to see who makes that move to retail first.”

In the midst of this, Kia orchestrated a logo change in January 2021. It was a step “cutting the cord of what you thought about Kia”, Norbiato said.

“That was the biggest line in the sand moment for us. It’s been a big job to educate on the logo, a complete overhaul. But it gave us a fresh opportunity to shape new perceptions and shake out existing ones, and hopefully form positive new brand attributes to the Kia badge.”

A recent survey by Rerev found 56 per cent of the 1000 respondents were able to correctly identify the letters as KIA in the new logo. Norbiato said analysis and results indicate the brand logo refresh is tracking in the right direction.

Finding the right channel fit

Then there’s the channel levers Kia can pull. A key priority has been retuning the media attribution model to see what is and isn’t working against core brand metrics.  

“We’re getting better at monitoring per channel, especially TV, which is often seen as a set-and-forget play. We are doing lots of analysis in that space with third parties to understand what are most profitable, and through what programming, what is driving best results back to the website, with pixel embedded on our site to do that,” Norbiato explained. “We’re not resting on our laurels, we are analysing those bigger brand moving channels.

“TV still a really important one for us at this point in time. But we are flexing into different digital channels, keeping our fingers on the social pulse across social networks.

“Are the social media players going to release the strangle on organic reach for brands to potentially lure them back to those environments? As a marketer, you have to stay so flexible in the current landscape because it does change on a dime. It’s the attitude we have fostered. But all while being guided by the right metrics, which are about changing brand perceptions.”  

Norbiato said future consideration, current consideration and intention levels have trended at triple-digit growth over the last three years. “It is indicating, from a soft metrics standpoint, that our brand work is working. But it needs to be constantly revisited, tweaked and altered,” he said.  

“Creative on top of that is the key here... I believe creative gives you the ability to cheat a lot of marketing principles and overachieve. A lot of principles are built on a standard of creative. If yours is better and more salient than that, you can achieve even better results. So I look to push the guys very hard from a creative standpoint as well.”  

Events partnership evolution

Clever creative is exactly what Norbiato believed Kia had again achieved this year with the Australian Open activation. Having been a partner for 22 years, Kia has now extended the major partnership to 2028.

“It’s up to the imagination as to how much you can leverage the Australian Open, be it through traditional comms, digital comms and social, plus partnerships,” Norbiato said.

For example, Kia launched a new car with Uber at the 2020 Australian Open and a fan fleet of 50 Kia Seltos attendees could use to get a free ride to the tennis. In 2022, it had the EV6 driving around the top of Rod Laver Arena – a creative play given the highest net creative score by the audience during the tournament.

Credit: Kia

This year, there’s another augmented reality (AR) experience in the main area, created by flying thousands of drones in to form the EV6 GT. In the light show, the car shoots itself virtually out of the stadium to music.

Then there’s the event foot traffic. “The AO is expecting 900,000 people through the gates, who we can get in our cars,” Norbiato said. “Sitting in and experiencing the car has a sizeable effect on perception changes. So it’s a big focus for us.”

In this vein, Kia extended its events play to the Vivid Festival in Sydney in 2022. With 2.4m people going through, it was another distinct opportunity to get product in front of people, Norbiato said.

“Our product is our special sauce – and we want to hero the metal as best we can how new positive Kia light, as opposed to being price-led in the past,” he said. “And it’s [the EV6] our trojan house into new audiences.”

For instance, about 60 per cent of average trade-ins to Kia dealers are models other than Kia. Whereas with the EV6, it’s 81 per cent, with the majority coming from premium European models.

“We want to invest in the badge to have price elasticity, so you can buy a $19,000 Picanto or a $99,000 pseudo-super car in the EV6 GT. It’s a big change for us but it’s about building the Kia badge and take steps find to allow us to have a supercar in our range as well as a small city car,” Norbiato said. “The whole business has bought into pursuing this, which makes it more achievable as a goal.”  

A further sign of just how important events partnership is to Kia is the National Rugby League. The brand recently became the naming rights sponsor of the NRL’s Thursday night football.

“This gives us a key media plank through 2023 in terms of games,” Norbiato said. “We’re very happy with the portfolio we have at the moment, looking to bring that to life and learning each year how to be better both by refining the comms channels sitting around sponsorship but also more generally.”

And even as Kia continues to build a dominant position in market, Norbiato still believed it could retain a challenger mentality.

“At the start of every month, you’re at the bottom of the slippery sales pole again. We don’t read too much into those results, and that stems from the senior leadership team keeping every on task for what is next and not look too much into the rear view mirror. Take lessons from it, but not get blinded by it,” he said.  

The ‘Enjoy your flight’ campaign is running in Q1, with the Australian Open the main platform. Kia also has EV6 GTs natively around airports in Sydney plus a number of inbound big billboards, including the big Tulla on way into Melbourne CBD.

“Feedback through social channels anecdotally plus analysis of driving traffic to the website per spot is tracking well above other campaigns we have had in market,” Norbiato added. “It’s doing into job from an initial metrics standpoint. We’ll then wait to see from a longer brand impact strategy how well it performs.”

Don’t miss out on the wealth of insight and content provided by CMO A/NZ and sign up to our weekly CMO Digest newsletters and information services here.  

You can also follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page


Join the newsletter!


Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Show Comments

Latest Videos

More Videos

More Brand Posts



CMO's top 10 martech stories for the week - 9 June

Read more

Great e-commerce article!

Vadim Frost

CMO’s State of CX Leadership 2022 report finds the CX striving to align to business outcomes

Read more

Are you searching something related to Lottery and Lottery App then Agnito Technologies can be a help for you Agnito comes out as a true ...


The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Thorough testing and quality assurance are required for a bug-free Lottery Platform. I'm looking forward to dependability.

Ella Hall

The Lottery Office CEO details journey into next-gen cross-channel campaign orchestration

Read more

Great Sharing thoughts.It is really helps to define marketing strategies. After all good digital marketing plan leads to brand awareness...

Paul F

Driving digital marketing effectiveness

Read more

Blog Posts

Marketing prowess versus the enigma of the metaverse

Flash back to the classic film, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Television-obsessed Mike insists on becoming the first person to be ‘sent by Wonkavision’, dematerialising on one end, pixel by pixel, and materialising in another space. His cinematic dreams are realised thanks to rash decisions as he is shrunken down to fit the digital universe, followed by a trip to the taffy puller to return to normal size.

Liz Miller

VP, Constellation Research

Why Excellent Leadership Begins with Vertical Growth

Why is it there is no shortage of leadership development materials, yet outstanding leadership is so rare? Despite having access to so many leadership principles, tools, systems and processes, why is it so hard to develop and improve as a leader?

Michael Bunting

Author, leadership expert

More than money talks in sports sponsorship

As a nation united by sport, brands are beginning to learn money alone won’t talk without aligned values and action. If recent events with major leagues and their players have shown us anything, it’s the next generation of athletes are standing by what they believe in – and they won’t let their values be superseded by money.

Simone Waugh

Managing Director, Publicis Queensland

Sign in