Honda takes duo for $80 mil spin

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American Honda Motor Co. is spending an estimated $80 million to launch two key vehicles.

Honda's Acura brand enters the luxury sport-utility segment with the Sept. 28 ad launch of its MDX breaking during the Olympic Games on NBC. The first of four TV spots for the redesigned Honda Civic, the nation's best-selling small car for the each of the past three years, broke Sept. 15 during the Games.

Honda is aiming for slightly younger buyers with its 2001-model Civic. "We've had a youthful message in the past, but we're being a little more youthful this year with a little more humorous attitude that we hope resonates [with the target]," said Doug Hoffman, national ad manager.

The current median age of a Civic two-door coupe buyer is 29, but Honda wants to lower that to about 27 years old. The four-door Civic sedan has an older buyer.

SMALL CARS REBOUND

Mr. Hoffman said new small-car entries from competitors are rejuvenating the segment. During the first eight months of 2000, according to Automotive News, Honda sold 233,712 Civics -- 33,228 units ahead of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Focus, on the market only a year. Focus advertising, from J. Walter Thompson USA, Detroit, is aimed at 18-to-29-year-olds.

Wes Brown, an analyst with market researcher Nextrend, predicted Honda will sell out of the 2001 Civics, with most current owners buying the new model. But he believes the car's styling is too evolutionary to attract the younger buyers Honda wants.

Mr. Hoffman said the Civic has "great styling," which young buyers seek. Honda is also challenged this year to tell consumers it has a redesigned Civic, he said.

`AMAZING BUT TRUE' TAG

Rubin Postaer & Associates, Santa Monica, Calif., developed the new tag "Amazing but true" to communicate improvements to the Civic, including more power and more room. The tag will appear in all advertising.

One of four TV spots shows a male Civic owner covering the car for the few minutes he picks up his date at her house.

The TV buy includes two-week appearances monthly through December on national broadcast and cable TV. Magazine ads run in November and December issues, returning February through June. During October and November, there will be outdoor in 24 top markets and bus wraps in 20 markets.

Of the $413.5 million Honda spent in measured media last year, Civic received $88 million, according to Competitive Media Reporting. The car was supported with $30 million in spending for the first quarter of 2000.

For Acura's MDX, the agency developed two TV commercials with the same road-trip theme that began with the CL launch in March. The spots were filmed in Taos, N.M., and Jackson Hole, Wyo., and carry the tag, "Taking the SUV to a place it's never been before."

The theme of the commercials, as well as the print creative, is "get more" both out of life and with the new SUV, said Rob Alen, ad manager at Acura. He projected first-year MDX sales between 35,000 and 40,000 units.

The buy includes national TV on 18 cable networks through the end of the year plus National Football League broadcasts on CBS; insertions in 39 magazines, outdoor in 12 markets; and online ads on 13 Web sites.

Mr. Alen said Acura is on track to reach total sales of 140,000 units this year. Acura sold 92,082 units in the first eight months of 2000 vs. 78,960 the same period a year ago, according to Automotive News.

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