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Automobile Advertising Adventures – Honda Can Always Do Better

If you have a short memory in our 140 character Twitterverse world, you have probably already blotted out from your memory the advertising campaign tied to the 2012 Honda Civic. For all the debate about the 2012 Civic and how good or bad it was, the ad campaign for the 2012 Civic launch was one of the worst in recent memory. Hoodie ninjas, cubicle zombies, sorority monsters, and lumberjacks with bird nests in their beards turned out to be awful spokescaricatures. If you don’t remember, here is a blast from the past from the 2012 Civic launch.

http://youtu.be/21AeVHHkrF0

When you’re marketing you have to take the five P’s in account:

• Product
• Persona
• Positioning
• Price
• Packaging

So the product is a Honda Civic, the persona is a defeated single cubicle zombie, the last to leave work, who has no golf game, and dresses like a dork at bars while hitting on women out of his league. At least the advertising gurus at Honda spared us seeing his one bedroom Ikea furnished apartment downing a handful of Wellbutrin with a whiskey chaser to go along with his pathetic life. So what’s the positioning? If you’re pathetic, buy a 2012 Honda Civic sedan because, that’s what pathetic cubicle zombies do.

The 2012 Civic was ill-received, but sold well despite itself. Honda already taking a beating for a number of missteps made the unusual announcement that the Civic would be updated for 2013. Here is a new 30 second advertisement for the new 2013 Civic sedan:

http://youtu.be/jwZ7Akkjivw

Product: The 2013 Honda Civic sedan. The model shown in the ad is a Civic EX-L with optional satellite linked navigation. The Civic has a legacy reputation going back more than 35 years, with the previous year model suffering a black eye from negative reviews, and a, “Not Recommended,” by Consumer Reports.

Persona: Honda moved far away from their, “a Civic for everyone,” campaign of 2012. We actually never see the driver beyond a glimpse or any potential buyers. During the first half of the ad we see a number of shots showing interesting engineering solutions to a kite, to a fun swing setup, the ASIMO robot, a folding bike, a surfer, and a projection keyboard on a smartphone. All of these have one thing in common, they are all designed to get a, “that’s cool” reaction from the armchair engineer in all of us. It’s a bit bold, but what Honda is saying is, if you like elegant design, if you like thinking outside of the box, if you like simple solutions to problems, then you are our customer.

Positioning: Positioning here couldn’t be clearer and it hits us in big letters at 14 seconds, “Things can always be better.” It is a very interesting way of saying, “sorry, we got the 2012 wrong, but we addressed those issues.” Additionally the closing line, “introducing the best Honda Civic sedan yet, made possible, by Honda,” is a strong statement that not only have we made it better, we’ve made it the best.

Price: It is never mentioned, never in small print, not even when the small print shown indicates the model in the advertisement at 19 seconds. The same was in the 2012 campaign. Honda isn’t selling on price, they never have (look at incentive compared to the competition and fleet sale consumption). They are selling purely on position, “things can always be better.”

Packaging: Packing in marketing doesn’t mean the box your cereal comes in, but how do you wrap up the product, present it to the persona, giving them the positioning in the market. The Honda Civic is revealed at 17 seconds and we get eight seconds of clips.
We finally see the product at 17 seconds, and only get 8 seconds of actual product shots. Honda did an extremely good job here. The split dashboard is a subject of controversy in the Civic, and Honda clings to it. But the angles, shots, and features they show, put the dashboard in the most positive light. Unlike the 2012 Civic ad which showed interaction with the touch screen and our zombie making a phone call (did he want to eat Gary’s brain), this ad shows one thin, driving. This is a driver’s car, and the swelling music, camera angle, and purposeful gauge shots reinforce that.

Just as the 2013 refreshed Civic is better than the 2012 model it is replacing, the advertising campaign is also vastly better. I give the ad a B+, which is vastly better to the F I would give the previous ad campaign. What say you Best & Brightest?
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If you’re pathetic, buy a 2012 Honda Civic sedan because, that’s what pathetic cubicle zombies do.

Funny review - thanks. I know next to nothing about marketing, but I learned something reading your post. As a gearhead, I was drawn to the ad for the new Si Coupe, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_WbWmdNAdhM.

The ad was fine, good enough that it made me look up the actual car. The specs look very similar to my 2003 Acura RSX, 201hp and a bit under 3000 lbs. Not bad for 2003, but lagging a little bit for 2013.

I love the feel of the VTEC engines, but it's giving away 50hp to the Ford Focus ST. If I were shopping this segment, I'd test drive both, but 50hp is a big handicap to overcome.

martybl
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I could care less about the ad, only the car. There have been some clearly pathetic ads the last few years for cars that sold incredibly well.

BTW, your description of the ad reminded me of the Surface ads ;)
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I must not be one of the best and brightest - at least as far as advertising is concerned.

I thought the ad for the 2013 Civic didn't have enough zombies.

Frankly, neither ad does anything for me. Neither of them tell me anything about the car, other than the fact that it exists. I thought they were both useless.

But I'm kind of weird that way. Advertising has very little impact on me.

--Peter
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I must not be one of the best and brightest - at least as far as advertising is concerned.

I thought the ad for the 2013 Civic didn't have enough zombies.

Frankly, neither ad does anything for me. Neither of them tell me anything about the car, other than the fact that it exists. I thought they were both useless.

But I'm kind of weird that way. Advertising has very little impact on me.

--Peter


It's purpose wasn't speeds and feeds, which most car buyers don't care about. It is aspirational and inspirational. We have a commitment to quality and improvement, this is the best Honda Civic we've ever made.

One of the hardest things, and I would describe more as a soft skill, is to leave your demographic in your brain, and look at something through the eyes of the average slob who doesn't even know where the dipstick is, and never opens their owner's manual. If the imagery at the beginning (too long if I were making the calls) did not speak to you, or didn't get you to watch - you're probably I'll bet not in the target demographic (I don't work at Honda so I don't know what it is specifically).

The cubicle zombie ad is entertaining, but it sends an awful message about the buyer. No one wants to be perceived as a single loser cubicle slave, yet that is what the previous ad told the buyer. Yikes!!!
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One of the hardest things, and I would describe more as a soft skill, is to leave your demographic in your brain, and look at something through the eyes of the average slob

I'm pretty good at a number of things. This is one area I haven't got a clue.

The only classes I had trouble with when getting my MBA were the Marketing classes. Absolutely nothing the professor said, nothing written in the textbooks made any sense at all to me.

The only reason I passed the class was through the efforts of my study group and our projects. I could help with measuring marketing response rates. That was about it.

Thanks for trying, but you may as well try to teach an elephant to tap dance.

--Peter
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Only thing I learned from the 2012 Civic is that people will buy a Honda even when it is an inferior product and even pay a premium for it.
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It's purpose wasn't speeds and feeds, which most car buyers don't care about. It is aspirational and inspirational. We have a commitment to quality and improvement, this is the best Honda Civic we've ever made.


Okay, I admit I haven't paid attention to Hondas in several years. I just went reading a couple of drive reviews of the 2012 Civic, and then a couple of the 2013 Civic. Motor Trend reports that the 2013 updates are limited to the minor interior improvements, the front grill, fascia and tail lights, and a slightly stiffer anti-roll bar and bushing combination.

I cannot imagine how such things can take a car from a flop to "the best."

xtn
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