The Olympics are just about over, Tonya Harding is all but out of contention in women's figure skating and you're probably thinking you'll soon be able to turn on your TV without having another obnox . . . er, flamboyant athlete shoved in your face.
Well, think again.
Late on the night of March 7 the glaring visage of basketball star Charles Barkley--already a pitchman for Nike footwear and McDonald's hamburgers--will blast forth from television screens across the land in a new campaign by Fountain Valley-based Hyundai Motor America.
The 30-second commercial shows a pickup basketball game in progress in a playground. A new car is parked in the lot. After establishing shots intended to make viewers think they're about to see another athletic shoe commercial, the camera cuts to the car, showing interior and exterior scenes as one of the players tosses a gym bag and basketball inside.
The voice-over, by actor Jeff Goldblum, reels off a list of features that include leather seats and "more room than a Lexus" and then announces that "it's a Sonata. From . . . Hyundai?"
That's when Barkley enters the scene, starts to climb inside and then stops, glares into the camera and demands: "You got a problem with that?" The thought of the hulking Barkley as spokesman for a Korean import may raise eyebrows, but Hyundai is banking on it also raising the driving public's consciousness about its newly remodeled Sonata.
The ad, developed for Hyundai by Backer Spielvogel Bates West in Irvine, debuts during the "Late Show With David Letterman" and then plays in prime time March 8 on "Roseanne" and the "John Larroquette Show," covering all three networks in two days. Subsequent airings will be on popular programs like "Seinfeld," "Coach" and "Home Improvement."
Hyundai is hoping the ad will help establish an image that overrides its somewhat tarnished reputation as an inexpensive import with more than its share of mechanical troubles. Industry analysts say the car maker is producing better quality cars these days but hasn't been able to kill off the old image.
Barkley could do that, said Jim Hillson, senior analyst with Phase One, a Beverly Hills firm specializing in automotive advertising research.
"Hyundai could use some cachet," he said. "They really haven't any, and this might just put them into the limelight as the car that stands for an attitude."
Hillson wonders, however, whether the "got a problem?" line might backfire by striking some consumers as too defensive.
Hyundai officials say no. Barkley is meant to personify the car maker's new attitude, said N. Douglas Mazza, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Hyundai Motor America. "He's confident, straightforward and honest, just the right person to communicate the major strides Hyundai has achieved."
And unlike Olympic gymnast Mary Lou Retton, who recently acknowledged that she didn't really eat Wheaties even though she touted them, Barkley does own a new 1995 Hyundai Sonata. "He has the first one in the United States," said Hyundai spokesman Bill Wolfe. For the record, Barkley got his as part of the deal to do the ad campaign.