Honda Doesn't Let Even 'The Grinch' Derail Its Important Happy Honda Days Campaign

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Car marketers are all looking for some way to break through what has become an overwhelming environment of end-of-year and holiday promotions in their industry. What better way than to have a hot movie character disrupt things by "stealing" your sales event?

That's what marketers at Honda were thinking when they commissioned The Grinch from the new movie remake of the beloved children's Christmas story to "shut down" Happy Honda Days in a TV ad and a social-media effort right before Thanksgiving. The green "monster" quiets the annual celebration in Honda dealerships in his usual definitive way in the first ad, which broke November 18, and even "takes over" Honda's Twitter feed.

"It was intended to disrupt all the holiday clutter out there, and it drew attention to Happy Honda Days," Susie Rossick, assistant vice president of Honda Automotive marketing, told me.

Of course, similar to how the new Dr. Seuss's The Grinch, the classic children's book, the original 1966 TV movie, and a Jim Carrey-starring remake turn out, The Grinch "returns" Happy Honda Days with an overflowing heart in a commercial that ran just two days later. Much happiness ensues, as spiffy Honda vehicles, happy customers and salespeople -- and even complimentary doughnuts and "surprisingly comfortable" chairs -- once again populate Honda dealerships.

"There are so many things we could do with him, such as stealing Happy Honda Days -- stealing is what he's good at," Rossick explained. "And then to see his heart grow three sizes bigger over the next day and a half and ultimately restore Happy Honda Days by giving it back to us was a natural idea. "

Honda also gave away a new Pilot SUV to a "deserving family" on The Today Show as the culmination of the mini-campaign with The Grinch, Rossick noted.

The Grinch theme also played into the broader Honda Days campaign that has been running in the background, featuring the return of classic childhood toys in a meme that Honda began in 2014. The Six Million Dollar Man, Care Bears, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other iconic toys inhabit Honda dealerships and highlight features of Honda vehicles in a slate of ads that will be running throughout the holiday season.

Honda wasn't alone in its impulses to ride The Grinch this season. Wonderful Pistachios cracked open its own Grinch-themed holiday campaign, and other brands with Grinch ties included IHOP, Barnes & Noble, the NBA and ESPN, as well as the DNA-testing service 23andme. Their campaigns broke in the wake of a widely lauded campaign by Universal Studios and Illumination to re-introduce the children's book character with its awareness efforts before the new movie opened in November.

Honda, like the rest of the auto industry, is facing a mixed bag these days. The brand just notched a big victory by being named the clear winner in the 2019 Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards, as the Honda Civic got its fifth straight win in the compact-car category ,and Accord, CR-V, Pilot and Odyssey all led their segments for the fourth time.

Meanwhile, Honda is gearing up for the important launch of the all-new Passport mid-sized SUV in 2019, which it officially unveiled at this week's Los Angeles Auto Show press preview.

But Honda is fighting headwinds in the U.S. market, with brand sales down overall by 2.5 percent for the year through October, and sales of its sedans down by even more amid American consumers' accelerating move toward SUVs and crossovers instead.

So the role of Happy Honda Days arguably is more important in 2018 than in many years. "Every year we're looking for a campaign that will break through this clutter and get people to look up," Rossick said. "Yet each of us, from an OEM standpoint, tries to do the same thing: grab attention of the end-market customer and do it in a way that's organic to us.

"Happy Honda Days does that. In Honda's advertising, you'll never see us stand up and do 'Sale, Sale, Sale!' We continue to enhance our brand and use the sales event to do that, and also let in-market customers know that it's the best time to buy a Honda."

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