This is the time of year when automakers wrap holiday bows around their vehicles. Welcome to year-end sales, when automakers try to sidestep the "buy one, get two free" message with more nuanced efforts to walk that fine line between the need to clear inventory and maintaining brand equity.
Honda is wrapping its year-end event with something else: optimism. After two years of a more sober creative approach in its holiday sales period, reflecting the recession, the company has returned with a brighter and -- literally -- happier message.
Honda's go-to guy for many of its retail-focused ads is the animated "Mr. Opportunity," an affable everyman who showed up during this year's spring clearance event as an opera singer. But he's on vacation, as the Torrance, Calif. automaker's new "Happy Honda Days" campaign features real people in chromatic, idealized holiday settings.
The campaign's three TV spots use stop-motion visuals that put real people in an animated cut-out holiday world of snow, gifts and Christmas trees, with the idea that when you open a present there might be another one inside, and then another one inside that one until you get to a small box with the keys to a new Honda. The ads are set to music from indie rock band Vampire Weekend. The ads direct people to ShopHonda.com.
The effort, touting Honda's vehicle fuel efficiency, class leadership and owner loyalty, also has print, radio, and online placements. In addition, Honda is taking the campaign to iPad and has a new "Happy Honda Days" Facebook app scheduled to launch during the second week of December.
Greg Smith, SVP and account director at Honda's long-time agency Santa Monica-based RPA, says there's a fundamental difference between spring and year-end sales events: one is market-driven, and the other marketer-driven. Spring -- when Honda uses Mr. Opportunity -- is when consumers are well aware that big deals are in the offing because the market is offloading inventory, versus the winter when companies are trying to warm up the market with offers.
"Spring is kind of a unique period when you are making room for new models and getting rid of old. That time is full of auto sales events, so Mr. Opportunity makes sense. People understand that they have the upper hand in the marketplace."
Smith points out that in the past two holiday seasons Honda's year-end campaigns were about holiday traditions, and how people seek different ways to express values in their lives. "Having singers and dancers didn't seem appropriate. We turned to a more serious tone about spending time with family and friends -- the meaning of gift giving. This year we saw that things are better, even though consumers are still frugal and value-oriented. So we wanted to reinforce a positive and more optimistic tone about joy: the joy of owning a new car, of getting those keys."
The media buy for the holiday ads will constitute both a network overlay in the first and last few weeks and spot TV and radio buys in 210 markets, per Smith.