Campaign Casebook: Honda

The car manufacturer used inspirational thinking as the basis of an image overhaul. The most famous element of Honda's 'The power of dreams' campaign was the remarkable 'Cog' commercial, first screened on TV in April 2003, which showed a chain reaction involving individual components of the Honda Accord. The full execution ran for two minutes, although this was shown only 20 times. A 30-second edited version was screened three times more often.

The ad generated a huge amount of publicity, with almost every daily newspaper running a feature on how it was made. Thousands of consumers downloaded the full version from Honda's website and forwarded it to their friends. To stretch the effectiveness of the campaign even further, Honda created a DVD on the making of the ad and distributed it with The Guardian, Top Gear and GQ. A further 500,000 of these DVDs were sent out to consumers who called or emailed to request them.

But the campaign comprised far more than just one iconic TV execution. The inspirational handbook Book of Dreams was the starting point. It set the brand's tone of voice and was used as a consumer device, being left in the glove box of every new model.

Questioning tone

The first TV ad under the positioning was produced in 2002. It highlighted the fact that 'OK' is the world's most commonly used phrase, suggesting that 'what if?' would be a better choice. Novelist Garrison Keillor was brought in to do voiceovers after one of the pitch team read his Lake Wobegon Days and heard tapes of his radio shows. The team felt his voice was global, intelligent and questioning.

Throughout summer 2002 and 2003, Honda ran four ads (for the Accord, Jazz, Civic, and CRV models) in rotation to blitz the target market with messages of 'Honda-ness'. Press and poster executions picked up on the theme of questioning negativity - one ad described how easy it is to write in biro on a banana, making the point that it is always worth looking at things in a new light.

All the press and poster ads stuck to the same style - bright colours with a very simple visual image. They included more than the average amount of copy, written in a gently witty, whimsical tone. Direct mail reflected this style and used images from the advertising.

Once the theme of the campaign was established, Honda could bring in more functional messages to demonstrate the ideas it had dreamed up. In May, TV and poster ads introduced the IMA engine that switches itself off when not in use. The creative dramatised this idea, showing lights turning themselves off as people walked out of rooms, and a gas hob that turns off when a pan boils over. This campaign was commended in the marketing communications category of the 2004 Marketing Society Awards, presented last week.

MEDIA PLAN

Objectives

Honda's UK sales had reached a rolling annual total of 66,981 in March 2002. However, with the imminent launch of the latest Accord, the company's directors set a target of 100,000 unit sales by the end of 2005. But the brand was seen as sensible, dull and 'for the mature driver'. Owners rationalised their purchases, but showed little emotional connection with the brand.

A campaign was needed to make consumers feel good about owning a Honda, and thus drive sales.

Strategy

'The power of dreams' had already been adopted as the company's global slogan, inspired by the values of founder Soichiro Honda. This theme offered marketers the opportunity to instil the characteristics of passion and optimistic imagination into the branding, with the added benefit that they are drawn from the brand's history. The campaign was designed to challenge people's perceptions, encouraging them to see Honda as the embodiment of inspirational thinking.

Execution

The first physical incarnation of 'The power of dreams' was the Book of Dreams, a book of inspirational slogans and pictures. The book served to inspire ads, with the famous 2003 'Cog' TV execution derived from one of its pages. There was also a major overhaul of dealerships, online work and direct mail. To promote the launch of the Civic, postcards and beer mats invited consumers to vote for their favourite objects of 'everyday genius' on the Honda website.

Results

After the publicity created by 'Cog', hits on the Honda website quadrupled to 55,000 a week, and brochure requests trebled. Between April 2002 and December 2003, visits to Honda dealerships rose from 3500 a month to 3700, with 22% of these visitors going on to purchase a Honda (compared with 19% before the campaign). By December 2003, annual sales had risen from 66,981 to 81,858, putting the company on course to hit its 100,000 target.

AGENCIES

Advertising: Wieden & Kennedy

Media planning: Naked

Media buying: Starcom Motive

Online: Midas

Direct marketing: Hicklin Slade & Partners

Budget: £45.8m April 02 to December 03

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