Honda's Going Large For HR-V, And For Civic Tour, And For Honda Stage

Honda is firing on all pistons this summer. New campaigns, new experiential programs, and chapter two and 15, respectively, of Honda Stage and the Honda Civic Tour, two music platforms the company is using to talk about its smaller vehicles to younger people. 

Where to start? How about the new campaign, since it launched Monday. By agency of record RPA, it's for the new vehicle, and Honda's first sub-compact crossover, HR-V. The campaign, which carries the message that the HR-V means you don't have to compromise with a smaller vehicle, kicks with two funny TV spots that actually refer to a auto industry saying that it's easy to create a new vehicle design, but incredibly difficult to build one, since when you add something, you have to alter something else. 

Honda says uh uh. We see a demonstration of this in the HR-V campaign in a metaphor: in a launch spot people who change their faces by pulling at their ears, for example, to hilarious effect. It's humorous, makes the point, and is a good fit for the kind of vehicle this is and for the buyer they have in mind. good Watch the spots, so I don't have to describe it. I will say that the leit motif is kind of sort of similar to Audi's doberhuahua ad in the Super Bowl.  The implicit themeline: the HR-V gets everything right and in proper proportion, one might add. 

A second spot, “Great Thinking Inside,” shows such Hondas of yore as the Prelude, and the Del Sol sportster — anyone remember that? Then, via virtual onion un-peeling exercise, we see how past Hondas lead up to the HR-V, or how "one good idea leads to another." It is set to Sammy Davis Jr.’s “Gonna Build a Mountain,” a great song. We need more Sammy Davis. 

Besides the network, primetime, cable and sports TV buy, there's also fold-out ads in buff books that play on the hidden size of the vehicle. Also home-page takeovers on Yahoo and YouTube. And Honda is also doing a sponsorship of the new Amazon 3D printing store replete with a sweepstakes dangling a 3D printer, which will probably end up on Craig's List after the winner uses it once to make a model of the Coliseum. And more: a program with Thrillist on a "Culinary Road Trip" event, sponsoring the National Geographic Wanderlust Instagram contest with a chance to win a Nat Geo Yosemite Expedition and custom videos and a personalized interactive post on Buzzfeed.

Let's move on to Honda Stage, which launched last year with a roster of concerts sponsored by Honda on a lot of different stages. Tom Peyton, AVP of advertising at American Honda, and Nicholas Lee, national brand manager at the automaker told me last week when I met them in the city, that the key difference between Civic Tour and Honda Stage is that the latter is about content, content, content. Civic Tour, while it has digital and content components as well, is more about the concert experience and earned media.

Honda Stage, which involves partnerships with iHeart Radio, Live Nation, Vevo, Revolt and YouTube, is a serious content play. But unlike last year, Honda won't be producing all the content. "We took sizable portion of the marketing budget to go into the content business," he said of the launch last year. This year's effort "Accentuates what worked well, and we continue to fund it with part of our budget for traditional TV. We really wanted to reach millennials and just running an ad on MTV and the CW? I think we can do better than that."

So, what did they learn that will affect this year's Honda Stage? Well, last year, as Peyton pointed out, Honda did the heavy lifting with content creation, getting something like two billion impressions via 50 artists 200 performances, which got 104.4 million views, over 100 million of which were organic views with an obviously low drop-off rate (you'll watch a mandatory ad, no problem, if the advertiser is sponsoring the content you want to see. And YouTube is still the top channel for music.) But, says Nicholas Lee, it was expensive and time consuming to put on the show and create the content. And viewers, says Lee, don't really care who's creating the content, and probably not so much who's putting on the actual show, either. As long as they get to see the band. What Honda gets it gets by association. "It's higher emotion, higher consideration, and Honda is seen as a cooler brand, and that's what we wanted."  

Peyton concedes that Honda last year learned that there's a line in the sand between curating and sponsoring music content and becoming a player in the music industry. "It's a tough business, and people could care less if I'm the one putting on the actual show." And, he says, Honda thought would end up being the natural go-to site for fans. But, he notes, it's the artist people care about, and it doesn't matter where they are as long as the content is accessible, and Honda is clearly sponsoring it. "But it's about the artist."

For the Civic Tour, Honda is doing something different, as well. Civic Tour has involved big acts in the past, bands like Maroon5, but this year Honda is bringing megalith band One Direction to the U.S. by sponsoring the tour here under the Civic Tour banner. They are an arena-filling group, complete with their own version of Beatlemania. "And they like our brand and what we stand for, and thought it would be good for their brand too," says Peyton. He adds that over 3 million people have gone to Honda Civic Tour shows since it started in 2001. 

"The key play here is not only do we sponsor the One Direction tour but they will have video content that comes out in August. And when it launches we will put our pre-roll ads in front of that video. And we expect tens of millions of views on, YouTube, Vevo, on the artists' pages." As before, Honda will have band-customized Civics at all 17 shows starting in July in San Diego, and August and September in in September in Boston. 

Honda Stage will, meanwhile, get some love from Honda's sports associations via coverage of NHL and college football. Lee points out that before broadcasts cut to commercials, there's music content and a sponsorship tag. The music buffer touts Honda Stage, with both music and a pre-ad Honda Stage backdrop. "ESPN and most sports programming are using music as a buffer between content and commercial loads. We did this last year and will do more of it. It just offers greater exposure for Honda Stage and the artists."

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