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Remember the Super Bowl blackout? Of course you do. But you probably don't recall its effect on gameplay so much as the comments it inspired in the media. And of those, none was more talked about than a simple tweet from Oreos, which reminded followers that "You can still dunk in the dark".
Such super-timely advertising has become increasingly commonplace thanks to (a) the nonstop flow of news on TV and the web, and (b) social media, which allows advertisers to respond to the news in near-real time. The moment something big happens, folks around the world know it, and marketers often race to turn the event into advertising gold.
So, it makes perfect sense that the current federal government shutdown has begun to affect auto marketing. And the first companies to leverage it are Hyundai and Nissan.
Hyundai's response to the shutdown is perfectly in step with some of its previous efforts. You might remember, for example, how Hyundai turned the Great Recession into marketing gold with its hugely popular Hyundai Assurance program. During a time of dogged uncertainty, Hyundai gave consumers added peace of mind by promising, among other things, to take back their car if they lost their jobs.
In a similar vein, Hyundai announced last week that it had created a payment-deferral program for government workers who were furloughed during the shutdown. And federal employees who wish to purchase a vehicle this month will be given a 90-day deferral on their auto loan. Nissan has created a similar program for both Nissan and Infiniti customers, granting 90-day extensions for those who've been affected by furloughs.
It's easy to take something as light and funny as the interruption of a sporting event and turn it into advertising fodder. After all, no lives were lost because of the Super Bowl blackout. No real harm was done. Ethically speaking, the stakes were low.
It's much harder to do that when the stakes are high. For example, Kenneth Cole infuriated fans when the company issued insensitive tweets about the revolution in Egypt and the push for U.S. intervention in Syria.
Though the federal shutdown hasn't resulted in bloodshed, it clearly falls in the latter camp. Using it as an advertising tool must be done with care because the shutdown affects hundreds of thousands of workers -- and their bank accounts. Thankfully, Hyundai and Nissan seem to have managed the delicate task.
That in itself would be cause for celebration at Hyundai and Nissan. But also, there's the fact that the federal shutdown will probably end within a month; as a result, few workers are likely to make use of these programs for long, so neither automaker is going to see its cashflow severely impacted.
In other words, the two programs give Hyundai and Nissan a boost in consumers' eyes, and they aren't likely to cost either company much at all. That's what we'd call a win-win.