HONDA PLAYS UP PERSONALITY IN ADS WITH RACE CAR DRIVERS: MOTORSPORTS CAMPAIGN SHIFTS FROM TECHNOLOGY FOCUS

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American Honda Motor Co.'s Honda Division is changing gears on its motorsports ad strategy.

In new TV spots and print ads, Honda is putting more emphasis on its race car drivers.

"We're trying to dial up the personalities of the drivers a little bit," said Paul Sellers, advertising manager of Honda Division. "Before, the creative was more on how [racing] technology benefits consumers. People root for drivers, not engines."

Separately, Honda's luxury Acura Division has a new TV spot touting the shared benefits of its $33,150 3.2-liter, V-6 TL sport coupe and its $80,000 NSX race car.

The Acura spot, from Suissa Miller, Santa Monica, Calif., broke in mid-March and will air nationally during National Basketball Association games and on cable.

TIE-IN TO CART SERIES

Honda Division's first of three motorsports TV spots started airing regionally before the first CART/FedEx Championship Series race this season. The other two spots, from Rubin Postaer & Associates, primarily will get spot play and also will appear during some national network sports programming, Mr. Sellers said.

One upcoming spot will be filmed in Italy, featuring driver Alex Zanardi as a teen-ager taking his driving test in his home country. He performs flawlessly until he stops, opens his door and knocks an old man off his bicycle. The ad is based on a true incident involving Mr. Zanardi.

The agency is creating four print spreads, mostly for race-buff magazines. The first ad appeared in the March 23 issue of TV Guide and is accompanied by a viewer's guide to the 19-race CART/FedEx series, which runs through Nov. 15.

RACY THOUGHTS

The ad uses the actual comments and handwriting of Honda-sponsored drivers on what they think about while driving near course walls at 240 mph.

Honda Division spent an estimated $15 million in production and media on motorsports advertising last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

Contributing: Alice Z. Cuneo.

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