Creatures real and imagined, terrestrial and extraterrestrial have long been a fixture of American advertising. Kids got the message from Tony the Tiger, adults (and probably kids) got the message from the Budweiser Frogs. Clever animation has usually been successful for television audiences. Recently Honda broke away from the pack with a series of ingenious un-animated television ads. They have now adapted the video to print advertising, while maintaining the “characters”, the style and theme, the “setting” and concept. The Honda ads are effective and exceptional for what is said, and even more so for what it not. T
The current “line-up” of ads show conversations between the Element and either a fox, bat, dog, mule or duck The “Duck” ad is clever and amusing; unfortunately, the ad series appears to be running out of steam and creative juices. The duck complains to the Element, with a “dialog balloon” over his head, “(t)raveling these days…with the lines and the crowds and the body searches”. The Element responds “(f)lying is a pain. That’s why I road trip.” The duck remarks “I just flew in from Miami and boy, are my arms tired!” to which the Element responds “(t)hat joke only works if you’re not a duck.” That joke was old when Groucho Marx cracked it.
Honda is clearly taking the entertainment approach: grab the potential customer’s attention, make him or her chuckle, and look for more. The print ads have that affect: the “duck” ad wasn’t all that humorous, but what’s next? The Element is not a traditional vehicle aimed at a traditional market. It is simply enough a plain rectangular box. Stylistically, the ads are equally plain with a simple white background behind “cut out” photos of the duck and car. Apparently Honda researchers discovered that what the post-college young-twenties set was looking for a plain “locker on wheels”. Honda has made an excellent point in creating a sophisticated, “no frills” ad for sophisticated market looking for a no-frills car.
This non-traditional auto market is marked with several traits: youth, activity, and sophistication. Honda does not provide this market with gas mileage and storage capacity statistics—they know these people with look it up on the Internet and do their own comparisons. This group of consumers is neither looking for nor can afford an “Armada” SUV or a “Led Zeppelin” Cadillac. Being highly mobile they want something to throw all of their stuff into—like a locker—whether they are heading to the bike trails or their first year of graduate school. It is an active crowd, and an affluent crowd, and they want plenty of room to tote around all the toys and accoutrements of their lifestyle.
Honda does not need to show “crash dummy” tests or side-impact safety features; most people in the age of the target market think they are immortal, anyway. There is no need to show a half-dozen kids piled inside on their way to soccer practice; this audience will be single, or married without children for some time. The ads are sex, gender, race, and occupation “neutral”; however, the politics, like the features can be unspoken. Honda has relished its “quality” position; it can go without saying in these ads. Similarly, the Element—despite its boxy configuration—looks fuel efficient. Honda understands the values of this market; environment-friendly (perhaps subliminally reinforced by the animals) and quality-conscious.
The “interaction” of the characters is essentially left to the imagination. The position and size of the duck and Element barely change in the four vertical frames of the ad. However, the third frame only contains a “head and shoulders” picture of the duck. This is clearly the “print” version of a television close-up. The first, second, and fourth frame, with the exception of different dialog balloons, are virtually identical. It is almost as if Honda wants to take its audience way back to its youth, when toddlers and youngsters imagine a whole barnyard of talking critters. Maybe this is a bit of a comfort factor, using the imagination as Honda draws the audience into the “action”.
The style and positioning of the ads is also refreshing. The individual ads run vertically, usually taking the far-right two inches of the right page. Instead of a larger ad, Honda has opted to repeat the smaller ones. One ad will feature the duck; turn the page and the Element is talking up a fox, turn again and the Element appears upside-down chatting with a bat. This is a friendly car, even supernatural, and, like the original crab, begging to be named, taken home and coddled. Honda element sales are great and the vehicle (and the original crab) have their own web site. Honda has scored with this series of ads. Honda has taken the concepts of “less is more” and “leave it to the imagination” to a great level. There is no deluge or information or an elegant glittering backdrop. No witty text or action photos. Instead, the potential customer sees just a low-key simple conversation—between a duck and a car! This makes enough of an impression on the viewer that he or she is likely to be discussing it with friends for days to come. That is extremely effective advertising.