Honda Passport will get TV push during Oscars, sporting events

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Honda has put together a full marketing itinerary for its recently launched Passport crossover.

The Passport's TV ad push begins this week, and will get prime-time exposure during the Academy Awards on Sunday night in select markets. Those watching the awards show in Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose will get a taste of the new crossover's outdoorsy campaign. Those are all top 10 markets for Honda.

The automaker also plans to run spots during the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament, which tips off next month.

The TV campaign consists of three 30-second spots, including one that is aimed at African-American buyers.

Honda is targeting other high-profile sporting events such as key NHL and NBA matchups, along with homepage takeovers on ESPN and CBS Sports' websites. The brand already did an ESPN homepage takeover with the Passport on Super Bowl Sunday that led interested consumers to Honda's site.

Honda is slowly ramping up its Passport marketing before a wider launch on April 1, when dealers are expected to have enough inventory.

Honda went through a couple rounds of creative concepts with its agency, RPA, challenging it to take advantage of the Passport name, said Susie Rossick, assistant vice president of Honda auto marketing at American Honda Motor Co. She said the agency came back with the "Your Passport to Adventure" tagline.

The Passport, which Rossick says is a halo for its utility lineup, fills a hole between the compact crossover CR-V and the three-row Pilot. The CR-V is Honda's top-selling vehicle in the U.S., with sales rising 0.3 percent to 379,013 vehicles last year. Pilot U.S. sales rose 25 percent to 159,615 units last year.

Honda discovered it was losing consumers who wanted something a bit bigger than the CR-V. The brand also said some wanted a more rugged and more capable option than the CR-V.

So Honda loaded the Passport with a 280-hp engine and off-road capabilities that the company says will make it as comfortable on sandy trails as it is on smooth pavement.

Early targets for the Passport campaign are double-income couples with no children who want to take the Passport on off-road adventures during the day, and then head to dinner that night in the versatile crossover, Rossick said.

The Passport campaign will span the print world as well, with advertisements in active-lifestyle publications Outside Magazine, Travel and Leisure, National Geographic and Men's Health. The Passport will be shown with desert, mountain, coastal and forest backdrops.

The campaign also includes billboards in places such as Boston and Manhattan.

While Honda will push the outdoor component heavily, Rossick said the brand isn't trying to be Jeep.

"It's a good alternative if you're looking at Jeep, [but] I wouldn't say the Passport is a Jeep. We're not trying to position it as a Jeep," she told Automotive News. "We're not taking that idea where you're going straight up a mountain or some kind of boulder. We're looking at the Passport as something that can fit into your lifestyle. If you want to go off-road, it's off-road capable."

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