blake griffin kia optima dunk

Kia has become an active presence in both the National Basketball Association and Grand-Am Challenge racing series. Participation in both requires a fair amount of investment for the automaker, but so far, Kia says this marketing gamble is paying off handsomely.

In 2010, Kia sold 356,268 vehicles to U.S. consumers. That's a record for the automaker, and it tops efforts by more established brands Mazda, Volkswagen and Subaru. Kia is optimistic that 2011 could be even better thanks to the increased brand exposure coming as a result of its NBA tie-ins.

Viewership of this NBA season is up, which means Kia's messaging is reaching a greater number of fans. That messaging got a massive surge during All-Star Weekend when Los Angeles Clippers forward used a 2011 Optima as a prop in the slam-dunk contest. Millions of people watched Blake Griffin soar over the hood of the strategically placed sedan, and many continue to view clips of the dunk on YouTube. (You can do the same, by clicking past the jump).

Beyond the NBA and the Optima, Kia has outfitted its Forte Koup for racing duty. Running in the Grand-Am Challenge Series, the Forte has been hitting the track for two solid years now. This year, the team was able to make it on to the podium.

It's two very different markets, but the Kia lineup is getting exposure to a very large audience. Traffic to both its website and dealerships is up, and Kia has been so buoyed by its Grand-Am involvement that it is also understood to be considering going racing with the Optima.

[Source: WardsAuto | Image: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images]