How Honda is using marketing to reinvigorate the brand and reboot sales

Honda is hoping to turn around a recent fall in sales and market share with a flurry of marketing activity aimed at reinvigorating public perceptions of the brand and talking up its new car launches.

Honda has dubbed this “the year of Honda” to mark an “unprecedented number of product launches”, according to its European marketing boss Jemma Jones.

During 2015 every model in Honda’s car line-up is being refreshed, from its new HR-V to the Civic Type R. This year also marks Honda’s return to Formula 1 and the first commercial flight of its Honda Jet.

“This year is a big celebration in terms of the diversity and breadth of the range and the number of launches,” Jones told Marketing Week.

However, this isn’t just a big year in terms of product launches, says Jones. Honda has a new CEO in Takahiro Hachigo who has placed the emphasis for the car marque on innovative cars, rather than aggressive growth targets.

“Rather than focusing on numbers, it is important to come up with products that carry dreams and satisfy our customers,” Hachigo said at a news conference, according to AutoNews. “We will focus on the development of innovative products.”

“On an upward curve”

Jones said the new CEO is a sign that Honda is shifting emphasis. She recently took over the role as the top dedicated marketer in Europe after Martin Moll left for Nissan as part of a restructure of the marketing team.

She reports into Sandra Hughes, who has added marketing to her product planning remit.

“There have been a lot of changes, the point is this is a fantastic year for us. There is lots of optimism and possibility and still a lot to look forward to. The challenging spirit that was our founding principle still lives on and permeates the organisation from the product side but is also echoed in our advertising and marketing,” said Jones.

“The whole brand is on a shift – an upward curve in terms of moving towards sporty and advance. There’s a lot of momentum, that is the critical mission for us this year.”

Jemma Jones, department manager – marketing communications, Honda Europe

The biggest ever year of product launches for Honda also means its biggest year for marketing. The brand has launched four campaigns this year and is planning two more before the year is out.

That includes the recent brand campaign – ‘Ignition’ by its agency Wieden+Kennedy – which aimed to showcase Honda’s engineering ability and the range of vehicles it offers by lining them up to look like a rocket. Later this year will come campaigns for the HR-V and the Jazz.

Reinvigorating Honda

Jones believes there is a lot of goodwill for the Honda brand due to a history of “great emotional advertising”.

However data from YouGov BrandIndex shows that consumer perceptions of the brand have fallen in the past year. Its Index score – which includes a range of metrics such as quality, impression and value – has fallen to 15.4% in the past 12 months, putting it ninth in a list of 34 car brands and behind rivals such as Volkswagen, Ford and Toyota.

Buzz – a measure of the positive and negative things said about a brand – fell by a statistically significant 1.2 points to 2.4 in the last 12 months. There were declines in every brand perception that YouGov measures.

Data from Euromonitor International/JATO Dynamics shows sales are also falling. For the year to the end of July they were down by 5.3% in the UK despite the wider market seeing sales rise by 6.5%.

Honda’s market share is also down, to 2% from 4.4% in 2007. Neil King, auto analyst at Euromonitor, says the brand looks set to suffer yet another year of market share declines.

“Suffice to say it is little wonder that Honda’s embarking on a product offensive and creating a buzz around this being the ‘year of Honda’,” he adds.

Honda Keep Going - Hero Image copy

Widening appeal

Jones said the aim this year is to “widen Honda’s appeal”. Marketing for models such as the HR-V will be aimed at a younger audience and include a big digital element.

“[Digital] complements TV in terms of extending the long tail and appeals to a younger audience,” she explained. “It pulls people through and sharpens our points in the middle and bottom end of the [purchasing] funnel.”

While the aim is to appeal to a younger demographic, Honda has no plans to move away from TV advertising. Jones said when the brand is on TV it sees a 400% uplift in visitors to its website.

“We want to play to our strengths – the diversity of the brand and the creative opportunity that that opens up. It is all about emotional advertising so we try to go beyond the one-dimensional approach that a lot of competitors adopt. That means Honda has many touchpoints beyond products so its about a longer term emotional link and relationship with the customer. TV is critical for delivering that,” she said.

“What we are trying to do with our advertising is give a short cut in terms of what Honda is, what Honda stands for and we demonstrate that through our advertising, the PR, the behind the scenes.

“Success is reaching out not just to existing owners but also to the whole Honda world in terms of employees, stakeholders. When we create a good ad there is a positive reception to it internally, that is also important. Advertising is more than just a short-term sales piece,” she said.

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