Social + VR + AR = Success for AHM (American Honda Motor)

Jessica Fini, manager of social marketing for American Honda Motor Inc., presents a case study at Marketing: Automotive on Nov. 27, 2018.

AR and VR and a mixed reality are a unique way to engage audiences on social media. If done right, it can be a huge asset in reaching customers, potentially younger buyers. Ideally, it will be entertaining while communication the key vehicle attributes and, ultimately, driving a sale.

In the cases today, both the Acura TLX and Honda Civic Type R share a performance sleeve so we wanted to connect with enthusiasts and also a broad tech-savvy audience through innovative and, of course, engaging marketing.

So we used augmented reality. Why turn to AR to launch bold cars? We wanted to advance the performance narrative, create thumb-stopping content in that very busy news feed. We wanted to capture user attention in a 3D world. 

First I’ll speak to the 2018 Acura TLX launch and the “What a Race” campaign. This was the world’s first live, augmented reality race when it launched last summer. “What a Race” was designed to showcase the performance of the new 2018 TLX with super handling all-wheel-drive. Important to the concept was incorporating real-drive performance. Actually casing the performance in IRL or in real life. 

At the same time, we wanted fans involved across social so we live-streamed the event on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, where fan engagement was a critical component of the experience. Inspiration for “What a Race” came from video game culture and we found gaming and technology were strong affinity points for the TLX buyer.

Video game technology is actually what we used to bring this idea to life in the first place. We used modern, real-time 3D gaming images and the hardware that runs them to power the experience. Adding to the excitement around the event and interest, we invited four influencers to participate and utilized race car drive Ryan Eversley, who has a very strong social presence, and social host Bradley Wasselmeyer to engage the audience during down time.

We leveraged the influence of our social handles for advanced promotion and live-streaming the race. The race itself consisted of three laps which each triggered a new AR course visible to the driver and the social audience. Each course provided a unique set of visuals and obstacles that tasked the TLX’s precise handling to maneuver through. 

Video is shown.

That custom helmet you saw was a critical component in making the event happen. Augmented reality was actually embedded in the visor allowing for a full-color, 80-degree viewing experience so when you turned your head you were immersed in the VR world.

The helmet also had a gyroscope so they could monitor the head location so they could alter the course based on that. And the helmet was connected to a computer that was located in the rear seats that provided high-performance rendering capacity to keep the experience running smoothly as the car was driving itself at high speeds.

The key to building excitement around this campaign was a comprehensive roll-out across various social channels which started a month before with teaser content. We promoted the live race across Twitter, Facebook and YouTube and we followed that up with recap videos targeting those who had engaged with the live stream or audiences that had an affinity towards technology and gaming.


Reached 3.58 million people

650,000 people tuned in to the hour-plus long video

Almost 50,000 engagements through comments, powering the drivers through the courses.

More than 9.7 million reached on Facebook (1.5 million reached organically)

Nearly 3.34 million impressions seen within Twitter

More than 196,000 reactions, comments and shares

Over 2.6 million views across Facebook Twitter and YouTube

Nearly 117,000 minutes viewed across Facebook

We saw great participation among our Acura dealers who were sharing and engaging on the livestream. From a dealer standpoint, it’s often hard to engage them on social. 

Strong press coverage across marketing, technology and consumer publications presenting Acura as an innovative brand.

Key Takeaways

Facebook Event pages are for local, not global.

At the time, Facebook Event was just rolling out for brands to promote so we decided to use it but found that, since it was an online event and not really an experiential event, the traction wasn’t there so we wouldn’t recommend moving forward with those type of event pages for an online event. 

In the initial teaser videos, some were quite abstract with AR experiences over-shadowing the car but once we started layering in the car visuals, that actually had a lot of traction so definitely going with the familiar visuals help get people to tune in and drive awareness. 

When introducing innovative ideas to the world, be more familiar at first and think frequency.

We definitely put a lot of paid media on the front end to drive awareness and traction around the event so definitely allocating additional media spend was important so people know what’s happening.

We used lots of different targeting capability. 

Twitter is the place for live events.

Last summer, Facebook Live was the new darling of live media on social but we found Twitter out-performed Facebook so since then we’ve leaned heavily into Twitter as being the place for live events.

Last summer, Facebook Live was the new darling of live media on social but we found Twitter out-performed Facebook so since then we’ve leaned heavily into Twitter as being the place for live events.

Target based on interests.

And as I mentioned, interest targeting, going after early tech adopters, for example, really proved fruitful as we saw a lot of engagement when the platform interests were layered in.

Being first reaps the glory.

Being first reaps the glory in terms of paid owned and earned media opportunity. 

Overall, it was very successful campaign. We used technology to communicate that TLX’s performance’s luxury stand with world-class handling and engaged a new audience that we may not have done with just traditional launch creative.


On to the Honda Civic Type R, sharing the latest campaign that was used to promote the Type R. Honda’s rich racing heritage was at the heart of this very ambitious project which featured the all-new Civic Type R. 

The Civic Type R was one of the most anticipate launches last year with the variant finally being available to the U.S. after only being available in Europe. The Type R is a vehicle that’s built for the track and doesn’t hold up strongly against it, we were looking for a unique way to showcase its racing chops through a campaign that would resonate with Honda’s enthusiasts as well as a gaming audience.

Since most people had never gotten to drive the Type R, it was important to  get that excitement behind the wheel but it actually turned out that gamers had been behind the wheel of the Type R for quite a while because it was in a lot of racing games like Forza. So we set to tell a story that encompasses the full breadth of what makes the Type R spectacular in both the real and virtual worlds.

To create the “R vs. R” campaign, we enlisted pro-Indy car driver Graham Rahal and pro-gamer Peter Jeakins. Graham was at the top of his game in auto racing and Peter was considered the best gamer when it came to Forza. 

Take a look at how we paired these two together for a very intense race.

Video shown.

70 million views

68 million-plus PR impressions

6 million-plus video views

100% Type Rs sold

It really was that close, I was there. It was really heart-pounding and pretty incredible. To engage the largest, most relevant audience with that fantastic video, we developed a comprehensive rollout plan as you can see here. We rolled out R vs R teaser content in the weeks leading up to the virtual race and utilized the hero video and great content for a month and a half across Honda’s Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the post-race content and behind-the-scenes footage rounding out the final weeks of the campaign.

We developed cuts with footage targeting gamers and tech enthusiasts depending on using certain pieces of the video. Additionally, we ran ads on Snapchat and Instagram Stories with a swipe-up with a call to action to watch the long-form video. And we leveraged the driver’s most popular social channel to drive additional awareness. 


15.36 million video views (7.54 million completed)

49% completion rate across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

Total video runtime: 2 minutes, 49 seconds

Average watch time: 2 minutes and 24 seconds — nearly the entirety of the race, incredible in a 3-second view world

In all, the short-form teaser content drove 15 million views while the long-form video reaching now nearly 11 million views and counting. The astonishing figure to me is that the average watch time was 2 minutes and 24 seconds, that’s literally when the race results come out. 

One of the reasons we saw that great long time on YouTube was that early on we saw the completion rate pretty low on Facebook so we shifted all of our media focus to YouTube and we just saw incredible results. And that’s a learning we carry with us now when we have longer-form content that is more storytelling driven, we push that all to YouTube. 

Although this case study presentation focused on their TLX and Type R campaigns, Honda has a history of use virtual reality to advance not a  performance narrative but an emotional one. For the past two years we have used virtual and augmented reality to entertain patients at the Children’s Hospital of Orange County who could not home during the holidays because they are undergoing cancer treatment through a happy holidays campaign. 

We want to bring these children a sense of holiday spirit even though they’re in the hospital. In 2016, we brought the virtual holiday world called Candy Cane Lane to patients where they were able to virtually ride on a sleigh with Santa. We brought the experience to our social users through 360 video experience an emotional companion story that told the children’s journey experiencing the technology.

Last year, we solicited get-well messages from our social community to make the ultimate get-well card that was built right in front of the children using augmented reality and then we created a similar experience for our social community through an AR app where users could see the same magical card being built in front of them. And we found that users spent an average of about almost two minutes with that card so, again, 120 seconds in a 3-second view world is incredible.

Next week we’ll be launching the third installment of the happy holidays campaign where the children experience a completely new world via virtual reality, bringing a small piece of that to their hospital room. Using this immersive technology, it really gives the viewer a new experience emotionally communicated through video. 

In summary, we see technology like augmented and virtual reality as mechanisms to drive narratives in social whether that’s vehicle driven or an emotional one. Using it to advance the messages and not just for stunt purposes. As the use of AR and VR becomes more commonplace and scaling becomes much more easy, I’m excited that there are new directions we can take to bring experience more richly and vividly to our customers.

We now have platforms like Snapchat and Facebook that are now becoming industry leaders in augmented reality and more people are using it on a daily basis so people are becoming just much more familiar with the technology and can embrace it that much easier.

It’s a really exciting time as a marketer, particularly in social and I’m looking forward to seeing where the next big campaign, launch or innovation can take us. 

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