When Mike Accavitti, 53, joined American Honda Motor Co. as its chief marketer just more than a year ago, he zeroed in on areas needing improvement.
The work from Honda's agency, RPA, wasn't bad, but Accavitti saw a comfort level that came from the agency's 37-year relationship with Honda. He quickly challenged RPA to refocus.
RPA responded with well-received Super Bowl spots that starred Jerry Seinfeld for Acura, and Matthew Broderick reprising his Ferris Bueller role for Honda. The strong work has continued with ensuing product launches.
Starting this week, Honda is undertaking its biggest marketing effort ever -- for the redesigned 2013 Accord. Accavitti, who spent more than 20 years at Chrysler and a stint at Cisco Systems before joining American Honda, spoke with Staff Reporter Mark Rechtin.
Q: A new chief marketing officer often replaces the ad agency. You've seen RPA at work for a year now. What's the status?
A: RPA has shown tremendous creativity and ability to execute over the last launches. The Super Bowl ads were top tier in every poll. They were well respected, wildly entertaining, drove tremendous traffic and helped sell cars. The RDX and ILX launches were very well received. The Accord stuff is some of the best work I've seen. What I found with RPA is that they have very capable individuals. We just needed to have a common understanding of what the objectives were, and they've been able to come up with good creative.
Honda's creative brief used to be: "Show the car. Make a clever comment. Show the logo."
Our recent ads have shown a shift from that. The CR-V "Leap" campaign was about short stories, the "leap list," and how the CR-V accomplishes that. In the Super Bowl spots, Ferris Bueller was a great story. More recently, the Acura RDX used the Gulliver theme to break through. It's an interesting way to engage viewers and get the message through. Now, with the ILX commercials, we're using [split] screens, with more of a lifestyle shot. Our sales-marketing campaigns still are about features, benefits and financing, or that we have an event. But we are well on our way to taking a different approach to marketing. Emotional engagement is what it's all about.
What lessons have you brought from Dodge?
My whole perspective is based on my time at Chrysler and Cisco. We used to do different things at Honda before I got here. Not that everything I did was right, but it provides different perspectives. When looking for solutions, we can consider different ways of doing things.
The ways we used to do things are less effective than in the past. We had to introduce some processes, in the development of our creative, timelines, milestones, and then on the back-end, the measurement. The function of marketing and advertising is part art, part science. I want to introduce more science into Honda's process, particularly post-advertising.
Toyota spent $175 million launching Camry last year. How much does Honda need to spend to launch the Accord?
The car excels in all areas. Our marketing needs to excel in all areas. The bottom line is focus and target. That's how you do it. We won't get into a money-burning contest.
To sell 350,000 Accords, you're going to have to hit all walks of life. At Chrysler, we would sell 50,000 units. We could really target. When you sell to 350,000 Accord buyers ... it's a combination of broad-based media and targeted media, whether it's to passionate customers of the brand, or if they are conquest or regional opportunities.
What about the other mid-sized sedan entrants coming at the same time?
Everyone has the same plan. Strategically they'll all say the same thing. But it's in the execution. They may outspend us. We look historically at what our competitors spend, and we haven't spent as much. We will spend more on this [Accord] campaign than any before it. It's the biggest in our history. We are going into a hypercompetitive situation. We need to make sure our message gets out. It won't be a frivolous spend.
The other part of the equation is the creative. It has to be emotional, compelling or interesting to get the viewer in. How you do that is as important as how much you are spending. If it's not resonating, you're not effective. The average recall for a mainstream mid-sized car ad is 39 percent. If you can get to 50 percent, that's quite a big boost in your dollar. On the other hand, if I'm at 26 percent, I'm not getting the bang for my buck. It's the creative that makes consumers recall that it was your ad and the message you were trying to convey.
Meanwhile, Honda is relaunching the Civic this fall with a new interior. How do you balance marketing that with such a heavy Accord spend?
The Accord will launch this fall, and we'll carry that through spring. The Civic will be a one-two punch. When it's ready in volume at dealerships, then we'll put out the word that we have a significantly refreshed Civic in the market. Some years you don't have a lot going on. Some years you have a lot going on. We have adequate spacing between these two major launches to be successful.
Is advertising on Facebook worthwhile?
We see it as worth it. You can't take a single item. In isolation it's difficult to look at things. GM said they were spending $10 million on Facebook ads. That's a lot more than us. We spend an appropriate amount, and get the ROI that works. We experiment with some things, and ask ourselves if it is working. The amount of money spent against Facebook is appropriate for the return we get.
What about social media in general?
People don't want corporate stuff jammed down their throats. We got into Pinterest. We're all over Twitter, where not only companies but individuals within companies are being followed. It's very early in the process to understand what the long-term benefit is, and what you can influence. I think Twitter is great, in how news breaks on Twitter before Google Alerts. People are using it as a means to communicate. We just created a new social media position. We're beefing up our resources. We have a good presence, but we're looking for answers to those questions. Do we need to engage? Does it work better for dealers? There's Foursquare and other social media activities that may be better for the dealer.