First you see the hoodies, a few gold chains, then you hear the sounds of hip hop grooves and beats. Then you see the faces of giant hamsters speaking in hip hop’s rhythmic vernacular about “This or That.” There is no question that the voices behind the animals are intended to represent African American brothers kicking it in the hood. While Kia’s website (http://www.kia.com/#/soul/explore/videos/?cid=sem&ppc=y) says that the animals are hamsters, if you don’t know the difference, they look like Rats. Dressed in styles and doing movements associated with America’s Black urban youth, Kia Soul represents a new low in television advertising.
That Kia selected the word “soul” to represent their product is not accidental. The term is all too frequently used as a proxy for talking about Blackness-- as in ‘soul brothers,’ ‘you got soul,’ etc. And the images of giant hamsters “kickin’ it” in front of buildings that look an all-American urban core neighborhood is not accidental. These animals are not the hamsters in your science class but anthropomorphized (animals or non-living things made to appear human) symbols of Blackness and more specifically urban black males. There’s nothing cute about the association.