CORRECTION: Both the original headline and the body of this story about Honda's "Social Experiment" incorrectly stated that the automaker tallied 2 million fans on Facebook. Honda now has more than 250,000 fans (the one-day takeover Oct. 19 more than doubled the number of 63,083 and since then has grown.) The 2 million figure represented how many "connections" -- or how many friends its fans collectively have -- a very soft metric of social-media success. We were way off and we apologize for the errors.
DETROIT (AdAge.com) -- Honda is feeling the love these days. American Honda Motor Co.'s vehicle line is in the midst of what it deems a very successful social-marketing blitz that the marketer has dubbed the "Social Experiment."
In August, Honda quietly launched an official Facebook page, themed "Everybody Knows Somebody Who Loves a Honda," to recruit fans of the brand. Owners are encouraged to join as overall Honda fans as well as fans of a specific model, and to learn how they are connected to friends, family members and other owners around the world. Visitors can upload photos of their cars or link up to owners of their favorite old Honda.
Honda initially supported the site with a sprinkling of ads on Facebook. "It wasn't a big media buy, but it got a lot of attention," said Tom Peyton, senior manager-national advertising. Earlier this month, TV was added to the mix, with 15- and 30-second spots featuring actual owners. The commercials were created by Honda's longtime agency, independent RPA, Santa Monica, which developed the concept. The buy, also handled by RPA, encompasses prime-time programming such as "30 Rock," "How I Met Your Mother," "Dancing With the Stars" and NFL football.
The campaign got a huge boost after a one-day targeted homepage takeover Oct. 19 on high-reach sites, including ESPN.com, CNN.com and SportsYahoo.com. It helped more than double the number of Honda's Facebook fans.
The results thus far have blown away Mr. Peyton, who felt at the campaign's onset that "If we got a million connections, that would be cool." He called the push "a pretty powerful piece of advertising because people are buying into it and we aren't giving anything away."
This week, Honda added a new online hub for the brand campaign at love.honda.com. The site links to the Facebook page and contains all three TV spots, along with interviews of the 20-plus owners in the commercials. Visitors can also get more information about specific Honda models.
Mr. Peyton called the blitz "pretty viral, with only a little advertising," and said he can track which ad mediums are generating spikes of Facebook log-ins. A TV spot on MTV might generate a few hundred people joining the experiment the day after, but 50,000 people would sign up the day after a TV ad during an NFL game. "So," he said, "TV isn't dead," but rather an adjunct to community-based marketing. Still, he called word-of-mouth the "oldest and arguably the most potent advertising you can do."
The marketer spent nearly $565 million in U.S. measured media last year, an 8.5% drop from 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.
Honda isn't using the exercise as a way to expand its database of prospects. "We aren't collecting names and e-mails, and we are not going to hound these people," Mr. Peyton said. "We are learning, like everyone else, what we are permitted to do with these kinds of things."
So Honda is connecting a community, but will the campaign, due to run until late in the year, sell cars? "That's what I'm going to try to figure out," Mr. Peyton said. "At the end of the day, I am putting some pennies back into my brand piggy bank."
In 2004, the automaker tried something similar on Honda.com, encouraging owners to post photos of their own faces and match them with a Honda model. That effort, also developed by RPA, was themed "Love" and included related TV spots. But Mr. Peyton said there were no mega social-networking sites back then, so that push "wasn't as developed" as this one.
The Honda brand's U.S. new-vehicle sales slid by 24% in the first nine months of the year to 805,508 units as compared to the same year-ago period.