Honda CR-V Super Bowl Flashback

The 1997 launch of the Honda CR-V was an integrated campaign before that was a thing.

In 1997, Honda gave RPA an exciting assignment: Launch the Honda CR-V, a type of vehicle they had never sold before, during Super Bowl XXXI. Honda was breaking ground in the crossover category. We needed to break ground with their advertising, too.

This was 20 years ago, when Super Bowl ads usually aired on television and then faded from public consciousness. RPA took a new approach with “Newspaper,” a spot that follows the CR-V through a series of photographs in the pages of USA Today. By expanding the concept to digital and print mediums, we helped pioneer the 360-degree approach that dominates modern Super Bowl advertising.

On television, viewers witnessed the CR-V drive through everything from the windswept tropics to the surface of Mars. Computer-generated effects were still rare in advertising, especially at this level of sophistication. To create them, RPA enlisted Industrial Light & Magic, the legendary VFX and animation studio founded by George Lucas, and director Joe Johnston of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and Jumanji. The participation of Johnston, not known as a commercial director, was a victory for the agency.


“Newspaper” was revolutionary in other ways, as well. RPA’s media team spent months trying to persuade USA Today to license their property. The newspaper finally agreed to both television and digital executions, allowing us to build a holistic campaign. On the USA Today site, users watched the CR-V drive out of its ad space and through the website’s navigation and editorial content.

“It was a pioneering Super Bowl campaign. That level of media integration simply wasn’t done at the time.”
– Pete Imwalle, President/CEO, RPA

Gary Paticoff, our EVP/Chief Production Officer, remembers finishing the spot at Industrial Light & Magic. “We were up there at the ranch,” he says, “at the same time they were working on the Star Wars [re-releases].” ILM even allowed several RPA-ers to be extras in a crowd scene at the Galactic Senate.

Honda loved the campaign. Within a year, they were selling 100,000 units in a product line that didn’t even exist before. Since “Newspaper,” the holistic approach has become the gold standard for Super Bowl projects. But RPA was there first, bringing 360-degree thinking to the big game for the last 20 years.

Related Work