HONDA ELEMENT USES RADIO-EQUIPPED BILLBOARDS

Consumers Can Interact With Mascots As They Drive By

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DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- American Honda Motor Co. wants you to talk to the animals. For its boxy Honda Element, the carmaker moves into mass-market media in March to expand what it called its biggest viral online campaign to TV, into more magazines and an unusual out-of-home play.
The Honda Element Web site features a driving game that ties into the billboards. Consumers are spending an average of 13 minutes at elementsandfriends.com, which has been generating a couple hundred thousand unique visitors monthly since it went live in October.

Eavesdropping encouraged
Outdoor boards in 21 markets will contain an AM radio transmitter that will advise drivers to tune into a local radio frequency, said Tom Peyton, senior manager-national advertising of Honda. Once tuned in, people can hear dialogue of the Element “talking” to various animals.

The same critters are found on the vehicle’s dedicated web site, elementandfriends.com, which went live last October and is backed by ads in only a handful of magazine titles. Visitors to the site can watch several 30-second videos -- each one highlighting different features of the Element -- in which the vehicle “talks” with a crab, a platypus and other animals. The site’s “driving” game provides even more Element-critter interaction.

Buzz on a budget
The target of the entire effort is 18- to 34-year-old men, Mr. Peyton said. Roughly 75% of Element buyers are men. While he declined to reveal spending, he said “you can generate some great buzz and promote the quirky character of your brand with a great creative idea without spending tens of millions of dollars.”

Of the $401.5 million the Honda brand spent in measured media for all its models in the first nine months of 2005, Element received only $13.4 million, according to TNS Media Intelligence. RPA, Honda’s longtime agency of record, handled the effort.

Web traffic increase expected
Jenny Howell, online marketing manager at Honda, said consumers are spending an average of 13 minutes at elementsandfriends.com, which has been generating a couple hundred thousand unique visitors monthly since it went live in October. She said she expects traffic to increase dramatically, especially after the TV spots break.

Honda’s initial buy to promote the site was in a handful of titles, including ESPN the Magazine. The TV buy will include young-male-targeted programming such as ESPN and late-night buys on Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” programming block and on Comedy Central. Honda plans to keep the site live through the current model year ending in late summer.

Honda said it sold a record 1.25 million vehicles in 2005 in the U.S. (a 5% increase from 2004), although Element sales skidded by 5.8% to 56,262 units for the year. The automaker reported January 2006 sales this week: The Honda Division posted its eighth-straight record month, with total vehicle sales up 24.4% over January last year to 84,413 units. Element sales rose by 14% from the year-ago period to 3,729 units.

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