You meet the nicest people researching the brand’s marketing history
Much like VW and its famous ads through the ages, Honda has been making marketing plays that pull on all the right heartstrings for decades.
From enlisting heavy-hitting Hollywood actors to star in its Super Bowl commercials; to, on the other end of the spectrum, using simplistic animations, Honda has long successfully coaxed us, commoners, into buying into its quirky TV ads and print concepts.
When Honda first entered the North America market in the early ’60s with its motorcycles, it went with a straight-forward slogan: You meet the nicest people on a Honda. The advert was created by Grey Advertising, a now 103-year-old ad agency that had offices in both New York and Japan at the time.
The inaugural ad ran in the U.S., but a similar marketing concept was also released in Asia. There were slight modifications to the illustrations over the following years, but the point Honda was trying to make in all market segments was clear: motorcycles aren’t just for hooligans; nice, kind people ride them, too.
Today, Honda remains one of those brands that speaks to its customers in a kind and direct way, no matter where they live in the world. Scroll on to see some of the best ads from the Japanese automaker.
You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda
In 1962, Honda made its American debut with its You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda campaign. Motorcycles were already a popular mode of transportation in Asia, but in the States, bikes were seen differently, as toys that rough folks rode.
But the campaign, which was used for a decade to follow and is still one of Honda’s most iconic, was able to successfully change the narrative around motorbikes and popularize them in the mainstream automotive sector. If Santa is the kind of guy who rides a bike, why shouldn’t you be?
Rather than using an ad agency to do the heavy lifting and come up with some catchy jingle, Honda let actual reviews speak for them. The 1974 ad for the Civic took actual quotes from journalists at leading automotive publications including Car & Driver, Motor Trend and Hot Rod and used them as testimonials.
Honda playfully poked fun at its competition in the ’80s, and while it didn’t name any names, the ad did do some quick math about how some of its own vehicles from years previous, including the Prelude, Civic, and Accord, had been standing the test of time.
Then and Now
Honda’s promo for the Civic in 1988 riffed on how far its design had come, from a two-door hatchback to a spacious and modern (at the time) compact car. The juxtaposition of the two vehicles, decades apart, was perfectly on point, even if it’s kind of comical today.
This time, instead of teasing its competition, Honda took a jab at car owners, particularly ones with custom plates. The double-page ad featured 62 vanity license plates, which seemed harmless, but across the bottom, it read “Instead of trying to give your car a personality, maybe you should try a car that already comes with one.”
Building the set for Honda’s The Cog television ad was probably ridiculously fun. The concept is based on a Rube Goldberg machine, a contraption organized with a bunch of parts in a complicated manner that interacts with one another in order to complete an otherwise mundane task.
In the ad, various parts of a Honda Accord roll, tap, knock, lift and blow one another along a pathway that’s like an automotive version of dominoes.
Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the ’80s flick where actor Matthew Broderick fakes being sick and takes the day off high school to gallivant around Chicago with two of his bffs, was a hit then and has stood the test of time so far. So much so that for Super Bowl 2012, Honda hired the actor to go back to his Bueller roots in an ad for the Honda CR-V that mimics the movie plot.
In the U.K., Honda released a TV ad celebrating its many years of innovation. The concept was straightforward: a birds-eye-view of a pair of hands manipulating a variety of miniature Honda-made machines including motorcycles, cars, robots and even a lawnmower, on a white background. Despite its simplicity, the ad was awarded Best Automotive Commercial in 2014 by The One Club, a non-profit org that celebrates marketing creatives.