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Hyundai Resumes Controversial TV Ad


Hyundai Motor America on Wednesday said it has begun running a television commercial with a car chase and arrest scene that has been kept off the air for two months amid concerns that it would evoke images of the police beating of motorist Rodney G. King.

The 30-second commercial, which began appearing Tuesday, will not run in California, the company said.

The commercial was scheduled to begin running April 18, about five weeks after Los Angeles police arrested and beat King following a high-speed chase March 3. King was driving a 1988 Hyundai Excel when arrested.

The decision to begin airing the ad outside of California was based on market research indicating that only 5% to 7% of adults in cities excluding Los Angeles associated the commercial with the King episode, Fountain Valley-based Hyundai said. It said 30% of Los Angeles residents associated the ad with the King case.

"While we were ready to cancel the ad if the findings warranted, we're confident that viewers instead will react to it just as we had hoped they would almost six months ago when the spot was approved for production," said Tom Ryan, the company's vice president of marketing. The ad was designed to show that Hyundais can outperform the competition.

But word that the commercial would include a chase and arrest scene involving a Hyundai prompted civil rights organizations and others to complain that the company was being insensitive to the King case.

The complaints prompted Hyundai to suspend the ad until a market research firm could discover whether viewers would respond negatively to it.

Maritz Marketing Research of Los Angeles interviewed 377 adults in Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and New York about the commercial between April 24 and May 6. "Of the total sample, almost 87% believed that it is appropriate for Hyundai to show the spot on TV or they held no opinion," said Carolyn Garfein, vice president and regional manager of Maritz.

Hyundai's decision to delay airing the commercial until research was conducted mollified some of those who criticized the original decision to run the ad.

"It's been two months, they've done some market research, they've shown some sensitivity--and since it's not being shown in California, I don't have the same objections to it that I did" in April, said Ramona Ripston, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California.

The commercial shows an unmarked 1991 Hyundai Sonata police car with flashing blue lights overtaking a BMW. As the BMW driver is frisked, his hands spread across the backside of the Sonata, he turns to the camera and asks: "Hyundai?" An unseen narrator responds with the company's slogan, "Yes, Hyundai."

Spokesman Bill Wolf said Hyundai will be able to air the commercial for "only 2 1/2 months, max" because 1992-model Sonatas will be arriving at dealers in late August.

He labeled as a "minor setback" the fact that the ad, believed to have cost $300,000, would run for about half of its originally planned life.

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