KIA Marketing Chief Dean Norbiato: There Is No Better Sponsorship Than The Australian Open

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Over the weekend, Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka and Italian Jannik Sinner won the Australian Open’s (AO) Women’s and Men’s Singles titles, respectively with millions tuning in.

The Men’s Final attracted a Total TV reach of more than 4.75 million. While Sinner mounted a remarkable comeback that enraptured sports fans, only the most tennis-obsessed would have missed the KIA brand during the final — the automaker’s swish sans serif logo was splashed all over the courts and across Nine’s coverage.

“In my opinion, there is no better sports sponsorship in Australia than the AO,” Dean Norbiato, KIA’s general manager of marketing, told B&T.

“To bring it to life the way we do, with the share of voice we receive maximises the impact we have as a brand”.

Just as well, considering that KIA reportedly spent $107 million on extending its longstanding AO partnership.

Norbiato’s assertion that its sponsorship is unrivalled for the brand is backed up by compelling data. Social listening company Meltwater revealed that KIA commanded nearly three-fifths of all social mentions compared to the Open’s other sponsors including Rolex, Emirates, Nike and Lacoste. KIA’s logo recognition was not quite as impressive, however, with the automaker receiving just over an eight per cent share of voice in terms of logo recognition.

But, according to Norbiato, KIA’s sponsorship of the Open extends beyond simply bashing people over the head with the logo. He explained that the brand is constantly working to keep its approach fresh, with new ways to engage audiences.

“There are ample marketing opportunities to bring the AO to life. There could be diminishing returns with a set-and-forget mirrored strategy from the previous year,” he explained.

“We’re looking to shake things up”.

Dean Norbiato, KIA’s general manager of marketing.

Central to that approach this year was a collaboration with Uber One which saw thousands of fans whisked to and from Melbourne Park in serene silence via KIA’s all-electric EV9 and EV6 models — just the second time a partnership of its kind has been offered. The first was between KIA and Uber at the AO four years ago.

“We received resounding positive feedback and a lot of it from consumers unaware that KIA had electric vehicles. For us, that was a really important point — you can get too close to your brand and think that everyone knows everything about the product lineup when, in fact, people consume advertising quite lightly,” Norabito said.

“The feedback around the quality of the vehicles was another dominant theme in the preliminary feedback. But, again, we’re waiting to get a full download on Uber One. It’s a fairly audacious partnership”.

KIA’s sponsorship of the AO extends back to 2001 and, this year, it made two big changes to its approach. The first was that it was not a major sponsor of Nine’s coverage.

“This year, we chose to go down a different path. Next year, we’ll go in and reassess,” said Norbiato, explaining that KIA’s free sharing of information across its departments including sales, network development and more gives it the ability to seriously interrogate the success of its sponsorship of TV coverage.

“Based on the inputs we had, we went down the path of a sponsor, which gave us an elevated share-of-voice to capitalise on our position. Next year, we’ll have the same negotiations with Channel Nine, overlayed with our business requirements and marketing objectives and see where we end up”.

The other major change was a shift in focus from metro to regional audiences, reflecting KIA’s evolving brand and expanding product lineup. Aside from its rapid expansion into electric vehicles, the Korean automaker is eyeing a piece of the light commercial ute market.

“As a brand, we’re moving into the light commercial ute category in 2025 — the biggest category in the Australian market — where they over-index in sales in regional markets compared to metro. As a brand, we need to work harder in the regional markets and the AO was an initial signal of where we’re heading and looking to grow the brand presence nationally in the Australian market”.

Did it work? Norbiato certainly thinks so.

“The regional results were really strong. Again, we’re just in the preliminary phase of feedback from Nine. But they’re looking strong and over-delivering, just like metro,” he said.

All of these efforts — from the market-leading Uber One partnership to the showcasing of its halo EV9 car and expansion into the ute market — show a brand that has undergone a dramatic shift since its partnership with the AO started at the turn of the millennium. At the time, the brand had only been in Australia four years and its logo was a friendly, if slightly forgettable, wordmark circumscribed by a pastille-shaped roundel. Its model lineup, at best, was cheap and cheerful. Now, it is the fourth best-selling marque in the country with an assertive, confident stance both in its marketing and its model range.

“We’ve got a fair tenure to be able to look back over the business results [from the AO partnership] generated both in soft metrics like brand uplift across consideration, intention and the positive brand attributes associated. They rise in Q1 faster than any other quarter,” said Norbiato.

“Looking at our sales results in January, we have a compound annual growth over the last five years sitting around seven per cent compared to a flat industry. So, both soft and hard metrics have followed increased activity and a dominant share of voice in January around the AO.

“We’re not complacent. We don’t take it lightly and look to raise the bar every year”.

Is it too cliché to say that KIA and the AO have aced their partnership? Perhaps. What isn’t cliché, however, are the enviable business results driven by smart marketing activities.

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