Honda moves away from ‘bland’ ads to regain ‘edge’

Honda has vowed to invest money in brand building and move away from “bland” function-based advertising after admitting it has lost some of the “edge” its award winning campaigns of the past had.

Honda Cog
Honda’s 2003 Cog ad is seen as creative high point.

The car marque, which currently holds less than 5 per cent market share in the UK, has dedicated 50 per cent of its marketing budget to product led tactical advertising in recent years talking purely to the 5 per cent of people who are actively looking to buy a car at any one time.

Martin Moll, Honda European marketing director, told Marketing Week the brand must shift the balance and focus on building the brand’s personality, by talking to the 95 per cent who may be buyers or non-buyers but can still have an opinion on the brand and be an influencer.

He adds the brand must take a more “conquest” oriented approach as the only way to drive volume growth in a declining market is by looking beyond existing loyal customers.

Honda has two product launches planned for this year and marketing campaigns for both are being developed as part of a more cohesive brand strategy rather than standalone activity.

The car marque also plans to develop specific brand activity designed to build its personality. It will retain the “Honda. The power of dreams.” strapline it has used since 2002.

Moll wants to regain the brand’s “edge” and believes that Honda’s marketing in the past few years has become too “bland” and too much about box ticking and communicating functional messages about vehicles. Now, he says, marketing must focus on building an emotional connection with the brand.

“I think emotional has got to be the first approach. People still have a great sense of pride in how they want something to make them feel and particularly when there is doom and gloom, that is important … you’re buying with an emotional response first and then you go on to do your research into the rational.The whole brand drip feed is slow over time, you can’t expect overnight sales success,” he says.

He cites John Lewis ads and Volkswagen’s Darth Vader spot as examples of brand content that consumers seek out and anticipate because they have strong emotional resonance.

As part of the brand building strategy, Moll, previously UK marketing director who took on the top European role in October 2012, is putting in place a European framework to ensure consistency across the region – something he says Honda has not had before.

It includes a toolkit each regional marketing team can adopt to make sure that tactical market specific communications are in line with the consistent look and feel.

“If every country tries to create its own version of the brand you end up with a disparate set of values, each one is a slight variation. Now we can check it fits the overall brand DNA and that it has an incremental effect to helping consumers understand Honda.”

The brand works with Wieden + Kennedy the agency responsible for its Cog, Choir and Impossible Dream ads.

Rosie Baker profile

Viewpoint

Honda has had a difficult few years facing natural disasters in Asia, on top of the global recession and the ongoing Eurozone crisis. Its revenue and profit plummeted in the immediate aftermath as production was disrupted, although it has since begun to recover. It’s no surprise then marketing activity has been focused on transaction rather than brand in recent years.

Moll told me 18 months ago, marketing was seen as a huge cost by the Honda management and it’s this mind frame that is only just starting to shift as financial pressures ease. From a zero base, the planned investment in brand marketing is “significant” he says.

The automotive industry plays the long-game and it’s baffling that half the marketing budget would should be spent on short term activity highlighting specifics that are irrelevant to the majority of consumers most of the time. What is more important is getting the brand further up the consideration list for when people are ready to start shopping for a car. The only way to do that is invest in the brand.

23% – Honda new car registrations increased 23 per cent year on year in the first three months of the year.
7.1% – Honda new registrations were up 7.1 per cent year on year in 2012 to 54,208 units.
5.9% – Total UK new car registrations increased 5.9 per cent in March 2013 to 394,806 units.

6.9% – In Jan – March registrations increased 6.9 per cent to 605,198 – the best since 2010 – but below the pre-recession 12.1 per cent.

Top 5 best selling cars so far this year:
1 Fiesta 34,309
2 Focus 25,081
3 Corsa 24,561
4 Astra 17,202
5 Golf 15,726

Source – SMMT

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