SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -- For decades, Honda's creative brief was "Show the car on a blank canvas. Make a clever voiceover comment. Show the logo."
But advertising for the 2013 Accord that begins this week highlights a big change in how Honda markets its cars since Mike Accavitti joined Honda as chief marketing officer last year.
Storytelling has now become prominent in Honda advertising, not just a laundry list of features and benefits. Accavitti, who spent 20 years at Chrysler, hopes the ads will make an emotional connection to Honda loyalists and potential conquests.
As competitors' products have improved -- especially in the mid-sized sedan category -- the built-in advantage of the Honda brand has ebbed.
"We need to tell what makes the Accord the best car in the segment," Accavitti said at the Accord press launch here. "But it has to be relatable."
As for the Accord's ad budget, Accavitti declined to give a figure but said: "We will spend more on this campaign than any before it. It will be the biggest in our history."
At the same time, he said, Honda "won't get into a money-burning contest" compared to Toyota's $175 million campaign last fall for the Camry.
"It won't be a frivolous spend," Accavitti said.
The Accord commercials show vignettes of how consumers use the car -- teleconferencing, napping, making a panic stop, rocking out to the stereo, using the LED headlights to help bring in the trash cans, even cowering from a wet dog vigorously shaking in the back seat. A little girl looks out the rear window because the car's low beltline and spacious greenhouse allow her to.
"We're using real people, not J. Lo or Shaq," said Accavitti, referring to rivals' use of celebrities in ads.
A piano track, backed with by a quiet wash of synthesizers, provides the background music that carries the same chord progression as U2's ballad "With or Without You." Attentive viewers will notice that road stripes pass and car doors are shut in time with the music's subtle waltz cadence.
Then there's the voiceover message, where Honda went for the clever turn-of-phrase after all: "We know you. We know things don't always go like you planned. We know how hard we have to work, just to spend some time away from it. We know sometimes you need to let loose. Or take out some frustrations. Because the best way to make a car is to know you, the people who use it. The Honda Accord. It starts with you."