OUR VIEW: Commercial gave locals a chance to shine on big stage

Published 11:51 am Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Most children watching the Super Bowl dream of being on that big of a stage one day. While throwing the ball in the backyard, young football players often close their eyes and pretend — just for a minute — that their next throw is to win the Super Bowl. Others dream about being a part of the halftime show and captivating the world’s largest television audience.

Unfortunately, most of us aren’t athletically gifted, musically talented or lucky enough to get a chance to do so. Like the rest of the world, we’re stuck watching on the couch.

That reality felt like the crux of Kia’s Super Bowl commercial, which started with a young boy and images of West Point flashing on the screen.

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“We are not famous. There are no stars on the sidewalk for us. No statues in our honor. We are just a small Georgia town of complete unknowns,” he said. “The closest thing to a world stage is 81 miles away in Atlanta tonight.”

The commercial then moves to other scenes from around town — a mock prom scene at Troup High School, a video of the THS chorus department singing and Tigers’ football players practicing.

“Our movie stardom, our football careers — they never took off,” the boy continued. “Because we are not known for who we are, we hope to be known for what we do.”

At that point, the commercial flashes the 2020 KIA Telluride on screen. The Telluride, which was first introduced in September, will be manufactured in West Point, so the commercial rightfully highlights the people and the city that will be responsible for making it.

The commercial reached a worldwide audience, and pundits from every corner of the globe have weighed in. Some loved it. The Chicago Tribune rated it as a B-, joking that maybe West Point can use money from Kia’s new vehicle to build a road so that the vehicle doesn’t have to keep driving through a river.

Others hated it. A headline on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website said “Did Kia Super Bowl commercial celebrate or insult rural Georgians?” Another story, from US Campaign, was titled “Behind the Super Bowl ad: How Kia saved a small town in Georgia.” Business Insider said Kia had “good intentions” but said the commercial made it appear a young man was reading a script, saying the car was “made of, for, and by hopeless people.”

Yahoo said that it felt wrong that an ad about the importance of “regular” people ends up being for a car named after a ski resort town in Colorado. Fair enough.

It’s not surprising for any Super Bowl commercial to get mixed reviews, and it’s probably fair to criticize just about every commercial for something. However, there’s one thing all of these reviewers failed to do — actually ask the people most impacted by the commercial.

While it’s true that Kia hopes the commercial resonated well nationally, it’s also true that only rural Georgians can actually determine if the commercial insulted rural Georgians, or whether it represented them well. So how did local people evaluate the commercial? We asked, and overall the response was positive.

In LaGrange, 75 percent of nearly 800 Facebook voters thought the commercial represented Troup County and West Point in a positive way. We asked the same question on our Valley Facebook page and the number of “yes” votes was even higher, with 82 percent of people saying the commercial represented the area well.

People that don’t live here don’t understand the impact a large car manufacturer such as Kia has on an area.  Kia’s addition to Troup County was a huge change for the entire area. It meant jobs, development and a spot on the map for future businesses. Kia has played a large role in the start and development of THINC College and Career Academy, too.

As Bill Gladden said in a documentary on YouTube explaining the commercial, Kia has become an identifier for the entire area.

“People ask, ‘where are you from.’ ‘West Point, Georgia,’” Gladden said. “’They say, ‘where’s that.’ You say, ‘where Kia is.’”

He’s right. The large Kia plant is impossible to miss while traveling on Interstate 85. It’s an easy-to-spot landmark on the journey between Atlanta and Montgomery and has become synonymous with this part of the country. It’s the biggest employer in Troup County. Every conversation about growth in Troup County seems to start and end with Kia.

With that said, it’s also true that West Point, LaGrange and Troup County would still be here if Kia had picked somewhere else to locate. Everyone is glad Kia is here, but it feels farfetched to say that Kia “saved” a rural Georgia town. “Impacted greatly” or “brought an influx of jobs” would be more factual.

Some have also argued over the commercial’s general message of focusing on West Point and Troup County citizens as “the great unknowns,” noting there have been several stars that made it big from Troup County.

However, we interpreted the commercial as propping up “the great unknowns,” the people who aren’t on television but make up the backbone of society. They start small businesses, get involved in local organizations, and yes, some of them even build cars.

Regardless of opinions, it’s obvious the commercial has given West Point its 30 seconds of fame. Not only are the people — “the great unknowns” — the stars, but our little city of 3,000 people has gotten attention on the national stage. Before the commercial, we wonder if anyone beyond Montgomery or Atlanta even knew there was a Kia plant in Georgia.

It’s not quite the same as winning six Super Bowls or performing during the halftime show, but for the people in this community, the commercial meant a lot.

Time will tell how successful the new Telluride is, but we feel Kia made a wise decision in localizing its Super Bowl commercial. It put West Point on a national stage, and the community will be talking about it for years to come.