Q&A: Honda's Accavitti On Agency Change Strategy

Honda Motor's luxury brand Acura is about to launch its first campaign under its new AOR Mullen. Marketing Daily visited American Honda’s headquarters in Torrance, Calif., to chat with Michael Accavitti, SVP of automobile operations. An elephant also sat down at the conference table: the automaker's agency changes -- giving Acura work to Mullen, keeping Honda division with RPA, with media going to Mediavest. The big challenge for Acura, notes Accavitti, is bringing more emotion, aspiration and passion to a brand whose equity has tended to be around rational factors.  

Q: First off, and I know you've probably talked about this ad infinitum, but why the need, strategically, for the agency changes, including on the media side?

A: Number one, it's an incredibly competitive market, not just from a product standpoint but in terms of having your advertising break through. It's both easier to reach your customer and increasingly difficult at the same time. The proliferation of communication devices and fragmentation; the number of TV stations and cable channels and websites is making it both more difficult. It’s easier because if I understand who I'm trying to reach and what rings their bell, we can pick and choose those media. The science that Mediavest uses and their tools are cutting edge. Mullen is incredibly creative; and we are looking for that, and the ability to touch a person's emotions. 



Q: When's their first raft of work?

A: You will see their work coming out in the next few days. 

Q: Has Acura creative had too much of a technology focus, which these days is no longer a big point of differentiation?  

A: We weren't telling the Acura stories as best as we needed to. That's not to say the work [via RP&]  wasn't good. We won an award from Nielsen last year for having achieved the highest level of breakthrough for one of our ads. 

Q: Well Acura hasn’t been even perceived as a luxury brand? Hasn't that been a problem? 

A: It definitely is a luxury brand. Our cars go toe to toe with anyone else in terms of features, technology, safety, craftsmanship, and power. The Acura difference is we do so at a lower price point; we offer tremendous value for luxury. And we are unique in that Honda is kind of a premium mass-market brand. So it actually pushes Acura up; it means Acura has to be that much more of a luxury brand.

Q: So the issue is consumer perception.

A: Yes. Perception is not up to the luxury level. 

Q: A luxury purchase is emotional...

A: By definition, luxury is an irrational purchase. If you wanted to buy a car, the best one is maybe Honda Accord. We look at the competitive set this way: rational purchase reasons versus emotional. We do very well with the former; the other guys do very well with the latter. So we think there's an opportunity for us to dial up the emotional side. That's one reason we have a new agency for Acura.

Q: What does this mean for RPA [of which former Acura agency RP& is a division]?  

A: RPA understands the Honda brand very well. They produce really good work. So what we are asking them to do now is focus all of their efforts on the Honda brand. We have new products there; new segments we will forge in the near future [Honda will have a compact crossover]. We want them to focus their efforts. 

Q: What does the Acura the product cycle look like now?

A: We have introduced four Acura models over last two years. Last year we focused on gateway cars, the RDX SUV and ILX sedan, and those are both doing their job: the RDX set a record every month since introduction, and the ILX, our gateway sedan really forged new ground in he industry. It has shown strong appeal, particularly to Gen Y. This year we will focus on more upscale cars like the RLX sedan, and the MDX SUV which will launch end of month.

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