In at least three important ways, the timing for Honda’s new safety-oriented advertising campaign probably couldn’t be better.
For one thing, Honda was heading into late 2019 without a major new-product introduction on the horizon for some time, so the moment was ideal for a brand-positioning statement and for a marketing platform focused on something other than new sheet metal.
Second, the safety of its vehicles long has been a hallmark of the Honda brand, but “it was something we weren’t talking about in a consistent way,” Ed Beadle, senior manager of marketing for American Honda, told me.
And, third, there’s finally a growing recognition by American consumers, auto-industry regulators and the OEMs themselves that the kind of advanced automated safety features comprised by systems such as Honda Sensing – including a “collision mitigation braking system” with pedestrian detection and forward-collision warning, “road-departure mitigation” for keeping drivers in their lane and adaptive cruise control to prevent tailgating – are providing huge advantages in preventing accidents. In fact, federal officials credited such systems with a huge role in improving the overall U.S. traffic-death toll over the last 2-1/2 years, as these technologies move into the mainstream market from their initial introduction only in luxury vehicles.
Interestingly, however, the pedestrian death toll has been rising over the same period – and that’s where Honda’s new campaign comes in. “Safety for Everyone” kicked off with a TV commercial that imagines the compelling story of “Mike,” who is leaving work and, distracted, walks out into an alley where he is prone to be mowed down by a car. There’s no carnage depicted, but the aftermath of the accident is where the ad gets its emotional bite, as family members and friends talk about what a great guy Mike was and shows how their worlds are going to fall apart without him.
Fortunately, the car that Mike is about to step in front of is a Honda Civic that was stopped automatically by Honda Sensing before running into the pedestrian in front of it – much to the relief of a shaken driver, and a very shaken Mike.
“We had some reservations because there have been a lot of advertisements about Sensing already,” Beadle explained. “So we had to tell a unique story, with the right angle – and it resonated.”
Chris Martin, technology-communications manager for American Honda, noted that the facts show “every Honda and Acura model tested by [the federal government] has gotten a five-star rating. That’s a fact. But that doesn’t resonate with people. We’re trying to make a connection with people on a more emotional level: If this guy isn’t around any more, how many people are affected by that?”
Beadle said that the new campaign stems in part from “one of the things our have been focusing on, which is the downstream effects of collisions. This ad is true to what our engineers were doing in the product space.
Honda has followed up the TV ad with a social-media and video-on-demand campaign that tells the stories of actual customers under the “Safety for Everone” rubric. The tales include that of Nicole Hart, who told Honda in a letter than in April she reached for a tissue while driving her 2018 Honda HR-V and found herself drifting into oncoming traffic. Her vehicle hit the utility trailer towed by a pickup truck and rolled over many times, but Hart walked away with only minor injuries.
“I truly believe that the structure and safety features in my vehicle saved my life,” Hart told Honda.
Beadle said that “Safety for Everyone” represents an integrated approach to using multiple marketing channels to tell Honda’s safety story that will continue to unfold. “You need to be consistent over time,” he said. “That’s how you build a relationship with a customer.”
An emphasis on the structural safety of Honda’s vehicles and the marvels of Honda Sensing also help prepare the brand and American consumers for a future in which even more automatic driving is anticipated.
“We do see the technologies that are included in Honda Sensing as bridge technologies for that autonomous future,” Martin said. “We recognize that consumers may need a bit of a warm-up period for that type of technology and some level of trust in the capabilities of our assistance to protect them. But there are genuine benefits today.”