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Honda Turns to Social to Argue for Its Soul

Web Video Makes Case That Drivers Love Their Hondas

By Published on . 1

Who says Hondas have no soul?

Tired of hearing their reliable cars dismissed as rolling appliances, Honda and ad agency RPA launched the "Start Something Special" ad campaign this summer around the idea that Honda owners form a "special" relationship with their vehicles. Now, Honda and RPA are trying to take it to another level with a 70-second web opus called "Man and His Car" shot specifically for social media. The new video will be posted to YouTube tonight.

Honda's rolling out a new Fit model next year. If "Man and His Car" becomes a big hit, the automaker may cut the video down to 60-second and 30-second versions and run it on TV.

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Inspired by the children's story "The Giving Tree," the offbeat spot tells the story of a man's love for his Honda -- and the car's selfless sacrifices for him. When he's a young man, he doesn't have money. But his Honda Fit subcompact is so low-priced, and gets such good mileage, he can afford it.

The man's Honda protects his life with its own metal body in a car crash. It loyally carries him away to college, through the lengthy commute to and from his first job and finally into married life. When his bride tells him she's expecting triplets, he trades up for a bigger Honda Pilot. But he gives away his old Honda to a girl. The circle of life, and love, between the Honda and its owner begins anew.

"Some other car manufacturers look at the Japanese makes and call them appliances, they think they're vanilla. Whatever. The reality is the dependability and quality of the Hondas have made them very trustworthy. They are loyal companions to customers," said Mike Accavitti, senior VP-automobile operation at American Honda in Torrance, Calif. "There's a lot to love about dependability, the simplicity, the ease of use, the fun to drive element, the great fuel economy and the safety. Based on those attributes, consumers really love their cars. They talk to them. They name them. It's truly a unique bond."

Hold the phone, though. Doesn't Honda's "love" message sound pretty similar to Carmichael Lynch's long-running "Love. It's what makes a Subaru, a Subaru" campaign?

Mr. Accavitti acknowledges the creative similarities. But he says Honda and RPA have been doing campaigns for years about how its customers love their Hondas: "Realities are what they are. The realities are that our consumers love their cars."

Honda's online ad campaign urges consumers to tell the company how they can #StartSomething special. The car hopes a "Man and His Car" will go viral the way its "Wedding" video of two Honda-loving consumers did. That video, showing Honda delivering eight shiny CR-V's to the wedding of "Mairead and Kevin," has drawn 975,000 views so far.

"Once people start seeing that kind of stuff, they want more," said Mr. Accavitti.

The web video also "reinforces and adds to" the two TV commercials currently supporting the "Start Something Special" campaign. One spot called "Thank You" features photos of families showing their appreciation for Honda. The other, starring singer Michael Bolton, pushes Honda's Winter Sales Event.

He declined to comment on whether Honda is buying ad time during Fox's broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2 along with other automakers such as General Motors' Chevrolet and Hyundai.

Mr. Accavitti started his career with Chrysler. Ask him about the notion that Hondas and other Japanese cars don't have the same "soul," or style, as American or European cars, you better stand back because he'll give you an earful. He admits the long-running debate is a "hot button" for him.

"When I worked for the Big Three, that's where we were at. We'd look over the fence and say, 'You lack a soul.' I realize now that I'm over on this side now, that these cars have just as much soul as the guys from Detroit. They might not have the big V8 engines. But they don't need them. They appeal to different emotions."

Separately, Secret Weapon Marketing launched this year's Happy Honda Days campaign for Honda dealers in California and Arizona on Monday. The ads feature stop-motion animation similar to classic TV specials such as "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

Sales for the Honda division rose 8.9% during the first 10 months of 2013, according to the Automotive News Data Center. American Honda spent $686 million on Honda advertising in 2012 vs. $164 million for its Acura luxury division, according to Ad Age DataCenter.

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