Honda on Wednesday launched a complex social media and Web campaign for the new Civic that is as much a statement about the nature of the digital universe as it is a second phase of a campaign for the car and its variants that began in April.
The new Web effort, launching this week, features a luchador -- or Mexican wrestler -- named Cesar whose candy-apple red Civic coupe disappears, Oz-like, in a digital tornado.
"The Super Civic Quest," whose locus is Honda's Facebook page, involves 30 Web sites, seven Web videos, and augmented-reality apps. There are also Facebook Credits, Amazon MP3 downloads, and the chance to win two of the new Civics as rewards for those who solve clues about the mystery car's digital whereabouts.
"We challenged RPA to reach and engage with our ultra-connected target through a fresh approach in social media as part of our Civic launch," said Alicia Jones, social media strategist at American Honda, in a statement.
The car's disappearance into the "interwebs" is detailed in a Web video on Honda's Facebook page and YouTube channel that is actually a digital metatext on the viral nature of our digital world: The video details Cesar's day, but also shows how news about him and his image is distributed around the Web via fans and Web news. In the film he is shown driving his car down a street and waving at fans, who take his picture and tweet about him. When he's at the gym, training skipping rope, lifting weights -- actually bench-pressing a guy who is bench pressing huge weights -- that becomes part of a Web-news item. When he cuts the ribbon for a new building, that becomes a YouTube story.
A cop gets his autograph and uploads it, and a guy spots him at a disco and uploads the video from his phone. The media storm becomes more and more frenzied as paparazzi surround him, taking pictures. Suddenly the storm turns into a tornado as logos for Twitter, Flickr, YouTube, Facebook, and other social platforms swirl around him. Then he wakes up in his dressing room -- realizing it's a dream, but also that he's late for his wrestling match. He dashes out to the garage, but his car is gone. Cut to a news report with the anchor explaining that the fighter won't fight until he finds his car, which "Was last spotted in the world wide interweb."
The Civic quest game, via Hooky Interactive, comprises ties to real and faux Web sites that hide digital clues to the car's location, the revelation of which requires the use of things like language translations, Web navigation savvy, the Shazam app, and a good deal of digital pluck. The challenges are ensconced in such environments as an augmented reality game, the errant QR code, a video music puzzle, and a fake Russian Honda Civic Web site.
The clues send players around the net to sites like Amazon, FailBlog, Flickr, Foodily, Foursquare, I Can Has Cheezburger, MyFonts, NOTCOT, Pandora, Threadless, Twitter, Yelp and YouTube.
The program follows a Civic launch campaign that began with five TV spots that include the four other characters: the ninja Aiko; Jack, the urban woodsman; a zombie named Mitch; and Teeny, the monster. One of the TV ads features all five characters. There are also print placements, out-of-home, home-page takeovers and display advertising.
A spokesperson for the agency explains that the campaign represents a first for Honda. "It's the first time Honda has gone so deeply into pop culture characters for a launch." She points out that Honda's campaign for the Element crossover three years back involved animated characters, such as a crab, but they weren't informed so directly by pop culture fondness for zombies, lady ninjas and Mexican wrestlers.
The TV ads, which launched a month ago, don't tease the Web campaign. "They are really about the cars, but all five characters are involved in the Quest, and with you throughout the scavenger hunt and show up in different clues."
Honda says the effort is being supported by a search campaign, YouTube promoted videos and Gen-Y, college-focused outreach. Honda is also using SocialVibe to advertise the program in-game in Zynga social games like Café World and FarmVille.
"We knew that to break through this crowded space we needed to create a unique and engaging experience that resonated with our extremely digital-savvy target," said Jason Sperling, SVP and creative director at RPA, in a statement. "There have been a lot of branded games, but none quite like this."