Honda Breaks Corporate Campaign, First With Network TV In Years

Honda today is breaking its first corporate ad campaign in years that includes television. The new campaign includes print and television ads and Internet elements, and touts Honda as the avant-garde of environmental engineering and technical wizardry.

The approach is aggressive for a corporate campaign. Corporate-positioning campaigns tend to focus on high-minded print ads in upper-echelon magazines and newspapers, and Honda is no exception. The new campaign continues its corporate "Power of dreams" mantra with TV that features its Asimo robot and home-video style shots of Honda products, experiments and competitive race cars.

Honda's recent corporate ads have promoted the automaker, whose U.S. office is in Torrance, Calif., as green. But the company has also had ads featuring Asimo--a diminutive white-paneled android who, in the new TV ad, appears to have shot the home videos himself--a feat that he, or it, is probably capable of. The giveaway is at the end of the ad, where we see a reflection in the window of a Honda sedan, of Asimo shooting a video of him/her/itself.



In the spot--for which the musical score is The Who's "I Can See for Miles"--we get a glimpse of the new Honda Jet, the company's entry into the world of corporate aviation, Honda's solar-powered racer and a Honda production car going through its paces. We also see engineers in Honda's futuristic test facility running impact studies on airbags. Another spot begins in November, and will highlight Honda's environmental technology.

Ads targeting 25- to-49*-year-olds launch on network TV during season premieres of shows like "Brothers & Sisters," "Dancing With the Stars," "Cane" and "Chuck." Spots will also run on Major League Baseball playoffs, the World Series, nearly 30 cable networks and National Public Radio. Honda will also air the work during special features on cable, such as National Geographic channel's "Preserve Our Planet."

Print ads using the "See What We See" theme start next month. Honda is also running the campaign on print and Internet properties under ESPN, O (Oprah's Magazine), Rolling Stone and Wired. One of the print ads shows a hand holding a postcard of a blue, cloud-studded sky against a backdrop of a smoggy downtown L.A.

The campaign includes a Web site,, where visitors can learn about Honda's solar panel business, marine engines, and various concepts.

Honda is also doing roadblocks on AOL, CBS, CNET, Forbes, Time and YouTube. The effort includes rich-media ads that show the TV spots on 17 news, community, environment, technology and sports Web sites.

"When we began strategic research, getting started in the concept and process, we did extensive interviews with lots of employees and associates in Honda," says Todd Carey, vice president/associate creative director at RPA. "We talked to engineers and people who worked on different projects--people who helped develop the jet, for instance. And with every interview, we found that no matter whom we talked to, people had a strong vision of what Honda is about. The 'See what we see' line came from talking to an engineer, and he was talking about Honda in terms of a shared vision."

Carey says the style of the ads is intended to suggest a family video. The content is meant to encompass what he calls "The three spirits of Honda: "the competitive spirit, Maverick spirit, "The push to be different, to do things that have never been done," he says. And the artisan spirit."

Barbara Ponce, who oversees corporate and diversity advertising at American Honda, says the effort is deliberately intended to seem informal. "It's by design, because we want our products to speak for themselves; it's meant to be seen as Honda's home movie shot by a family member.

"The campaign is for bringing to life our company in a natural, organic way, underscoring what Honda stands for; we have loyal customers, and it's really to reinforce our relationship with them. It's about what we stand for."

She says that while the effort isn't specifically aimed at young consumers, it's meant to appeal to a "youthful mindset."

Wes Brown, automotive market consultant at Los Angeles-based Iceology, says Honda needs to differentiate itself as a corporate brand from Toyota and others. "If you look back, from an image standpoint, the brand connected the most strongly with consumers in the '80s, when they were viewed as being very innovative and completely unique among Japanese brands," he says.

"But they have struggled since the mid-Nineties to separate themselves from Toyota to the average consumer. While most realize both brands build very good cars, Toyota has more dealers, more vehicles on the road, more selection of vehicles, and more marketing, even at the corporate level. They have to separate themselves from Toyota and even from Koreans and others in a crowded market."

Tom Libby, who heads up automotive research at J.D. Power & Associates' Power Information Network, says, by contrast, that the effort is consistent with what they have been doing. "You can't stand still; you can't not advertise. They have to communicate with the consumer."

But Libby also argues that Honda stands in good stead with American consumers and has not lost its halo. "Americans see Honda as environmentally friendly, technologically leading and [as] a maker of products of high quality and durability."

He also says that the company, by keeping tight control of production, has kept the shine on its nameplate by avoiding the need to incentivize heavily, and sell to daily fleets. "So Honda's retained value is strong." According to the consultancy, Toyota and Honda brands are in the top five in terms of residual value.

'"But while I think Toyota is perceived as being a leader in hybrids and a strong company, I don't know if they are perceived as being a leader in technology," says Libby. "Toyota has moved in the direction of focusing on volume and is now willing to have rebates and to promote rebates, while Honda has stayed with what they are doing. So I don't think they have lost; their market share continues to go up."

* Editor's Note: This story was amended after publication.

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