Honda - Motorsports 2017

Speaking to passion

To talk to the motorsports world, RPA had to learn its language

Speaking to passion

“I love this!!! Soooo epic!”

“This is intense”

“This is what I feel like when I drive my car”

“It’s great to see Honda marketed with such excitement!”

- Social-media viewers of “Racing at Heart”

"Racing at Heart" :30

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RPA launched its 2017 campaign for Honda Motorsports, “Racing at Heart,” with a broadcast spot that showed Honda racing vehicles transforming into the new Civic Type R. The comments it received were incredible. Social-media users wrote about the ad with the language of emotion: “intensity,” “excitement,” “feeling.”

It was satisfying feedback, particularly because the ad centered on passion. Every year, we aim our Honda Motorsports campaigns at racing’s highly passionate fan base. This year, with the Civic Type R about to debut, Honda had an additional ask: they wanted us to speak to the vehicle’s target market, customers who choose cars based on performance.

Were these two groups the same? What connected them? To find out, we had to tackle a common agency problem. When you need to talk to a specific cultural audience, how do you learn its language?

Finding our voice

Racing Fans. Performance Enthusiasts. Our research showed they weren’t one and the same, but there was strong overlap. Performance Enthusiasts don’t follow INDYCAR, Red Bull Global Rallycross and the Baja 100 religiously, but they might casually watch the X-Games or read racing articles in Autoweek.

This told us two things: first, that both audiences would respond to content set in the world of the racetrack. Second, that tone would be crucial. The gritty, dramatic world of motorsports was also the world of our Performance Enthusiasts. While most of our Honda advertising is fun, friendly and youthful, this campaign needed an extra layer.

Todd Gray, a RPA VP / Group Strategic Planning Director, has worked on motorsports for years and provided important insights. “In this campaign, we’re not trying to tell a rational story,” he explains. “We’re creating an emotional connection through a Honda passion point. The founder of Honda was a racing guy himself… we’re trying to bring out that sense of passion.”

It’s tempting to speak to Performance Enthusiasts about features and statistics. After all, a car’s “performance” is a tangible element. But a combination of research and experience told us to speak instead about something intangible: the passion for speed, excitement and sport.

“The client gave us a big challenge: small budget, little time and many outputs. We were proud to be able to rise to the occasion.”

- Alison Bickel, RPA Account Supervisor

Making choices

We needed a racetrack spot that spoke to the passion of Racing Fans and Performance Enthusiasts. But with a limited budget, we couldn’t afford to shoot on actual racetracks. We had to create our own in CG, meaning one of our most important choices was that of a production partner. The company Los York and director Ergin Kuke dazzled us with cinematic storyboards and stunning, almost fantastic environments. They spoke to the grit and drama we needed.

The commercial’s score, from Mophonics, was as bold and anthemic as the visuals. It worked in tandem with the noise of roaring motors and squealing wheels to add excitement and urgency to each scene.

“It’s a different type of advertising for Honda,” says former RPA Associate Creative Director Josh Ceazan. “It’s not about being smart, sensible or fuel efficient. It’s the world of hard-pumping adrenaline. All the choices we made, from the look to the sound, had to connect with that emotion.”

Another puzzle piece was the special effect that transformed each racecar to the next, eventually resolving in the Civic Type R. While high-tech morph effects are common in VFX, their slick, digital look didn’t seem to match the gritty tone.

“We wanted the transformations to evolve naturally from the racetrack environment,” says RPA senior art director Hieu Luong. “They may look like effects, but their texture still matches the clouds of dirt and spraying gravel.”

Reaching the finish line

Ultimately, the world, the tone and the emotion had to work together to promote products: Honda’s vehicles, including the new Civic Type R. The narrative of “Racing at Heart” directly promotes the idea that Honda’s racing heritage is at the heart of everything they produce.

“In the past, we’ve catered only to racing fans,” says RPA Associate Creative Director Romeo Cervas. “Now we’re stepping outside that and capturing an audience that’s interested in performance, but not necessarily a hardcore racing fan.”

The response to “Racing at Heart” speaks for itself. With a combination of careful research, boots-on-the-ground experience and creative choices derived from each, we learned to communicate with a highly specialized audience. And when we appealed to their passionate nature, they replied in kind:

“Dope commercial!”


“Best Honda advert in a long time!”

- Social-media viewers of “Racing at Heart”