Hyundai Motor America is using sponsorship to generate awareness and interest around next month’s launch of the Genesis, the automaker’s first entry in the U.S. near-luxury segment.

The unit of South Korean-based Hyundai Motor Co. reportedly has allocated $80 million to promote the sedan’s debut, with roughly half of that going to TV ads and the rest to grassroots marketing, print and online efforts.

On the grassroots side, Hyundai has launched the Discover Genesis Tour, a program that will hit 80 events in 15 cities.

“When consumers have an opportunity to touch, feel and experience our product in a lifestyle setting, it increases familiarity, consideration and opinion of our products and our brand,” said Kathy Faith, Hyundai’s national manager, experiential marketing.

The Discover Genesis Tour includes sponsorships of eight events from June through September, including Taste of Dallas and Seattle’s Bumbershoot presented by Samsung Mobile. Genesis has cosponsor status at seven of the properties and is the presenter of California’s La Jolla Festival of the Arts.

The company aligned with lifestyle and cultural events because they attract large numbers of consumers–each event will draw roughly 50,000 to 100,000 people–reach Genesis’ target of married men in their 50s with annual household income of $85,000-plus; and offer multiple opportunities for interaction with attendees.

The last factor gives festivals a distinct advantage over sports events, Faith said. “People that go to sports events enjoy the game and leave. Having a presence at cultural events gives us a surprise factor–the audience’s interest is piqued and they are more inclined to check out our vehicles.”

Early stages of the sponsorship program have already been successful, Faith said. A survey conducted at this month’s Pasadena Chalk Festival revealed that 14 percent of attendees were extremely likely to purchase a Genesis, 30 percent were very likely and 44 percent were somewhat likely, she said, adding that Hyundai has posted similar results from other sponsored events.

Other elements of Hyundai’s grassroots marketing include taking the Genesis to roughly 55 car enthusiast events and hosting “influencer events” at five classic auto shows, including the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, to reach upscale auto enthusiasts.

Hyundai also will host ride-and-drive events in Chicago, Philadelphia, Miami and four other cities from July to October where consumers will be able to compare the Genesis to other luxury cars, including the Cadillac CTS and Mercedes-Benz E550.

In addition to event marketing, Hyundai also plans to use branded entertainment to promote the Genesis. The company in May hired marketing agency Davie Brown Entertainment to scout placement opportunities in movies and TV shows.

Lightens Portfolio In Favor Of One-time Deals
Apart from its ties with the American Youth Soccer Organization, Soccer For Hope, and the Hyundai Hope on Wheels program benefitting pediatric cancer organizations, Hyundai over the past several years has moved away from long-term partnerships in favor of one-off events.

“We get far greater return on pay-for-display investments,” Faith said. “Those relationships work far better than long-term relationships with premium properties, which tend to overvalue their return. It has become more difficult to sell a partnership internally when the numbers aren’t there to justify an investment.”

Hyundai has dropped a number of ties over the past year, including title of San Bernardino, Calif.’s Glen Helen Pavilion and official automotive sponsor of Triple-A Baseball, around which it hosted Hyundai Sundays at 25 ballparks and titled the Legends of Triple-A Baseball program.

The company has retained its eight-year-old partnership with AYSO due to its ability to build long-term affinity with families, Faith said.

Hyundai Motor America’s Korean parent is one of six worldwide FIFA partners and was a sponsor of the just concluded UEFA Euro 2008 soccer championship.

Hyundai accepts sponsorship proposals through