American Honda Motor Company

Author:William Baue

Page 91

1919 Torrance Blvd.

Torrance, California 90501-2722


Telephone: (310) 783-2000

Fax: (310) 783-2110

Web site:


In 1998 advertising agency Rubin Postaer of Santa Monica developed a campaign for the American Honda Motor Company that was set in a corporate world from which workers yearned to escape. The ads proposed the Honda Civic both as the enticement for getting away from the responsibilities of work and as the means of escape. This approach attempted to solve a difficult targeting problem: how to appeal to the spirit of younger buyers, who were adopting the Civic as their signature car, while still acknowledging the demographic group who could better afford to buy the car, 30- and 40-something professionals as well as the baby boomer parents of the younger buyers. Rubin Postaer solved the problem by portraying the everyday situation of the older audience with the spirit of a younger attitude. The subtext of the ads suggested that a person could fulfill his responsibilities with the Civic while also managing to inject some fun into the equation.

The tag line of the campaign asked, "What about Now?," focusing attention on the present. The print as well as the television campaign juxtaposed images of work with symbols of recreation. Each print execution featured a small picture of a Civic with a roof rack holding a stereotypical piece of recreational equipment. One print ad pictured a pair of sand-covered pumps, suggesting that the owner had just visited the beach, while the roof rack on the Civic held a surfboard. Another ad showed a pinstriped suit on a hanger, with a lift pass to "Mt. Doom" affixed to its bottom button, while the Civic had skis on the roof rack. A final ad filled the page with an open briefcase revealing a fish on ice and the Civic with a fishing pole strapped on top.

The television commercial entitled "Snorkeling" similarly explored the line between work and play, investigating their odd points of convergence. This spot started with an underwater scene and then revealed a business-suited man swimming in snorkeling gear. When the camera surfaced above the water, it revealed a Honda Civic awaiting the man on the beach. The voice-over said that the businessman was supposed to be attending a symposium but that his attention had been drawn elsewhere—to his automobile, which promised more excitement than a conference. The spot "Leaving Early" created an Orwellian atmosphere of the totalitarianism of modern work, against which was set the liberation of fleeing with the assistance of a Honda Civic. A man's offhand comment about leaving work early was overheard and set in motion an elaborate series of countermeasures designed to prevent his departure. The final scene showed the man fleeing in his Civic, barely making it through the closing gate and leaving behind the helicopters and cars pursuing him.

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A print advertisement from Honda's "What About Now?" campaign. Rubin Postaer & Associates. Reproduced by Permission.

The Honda Motor Company was founded by Soichiro Honda in 1948. In 1990 Nobuhiko Kawamoto, an engineer who had joined Honda's research department in 1963, became president and chief executive. Honda's success reached a peak in the 1980s, but the lean economy of the 1990s pushed the company to the verge of being bought out by rival Mitsubishi Motors. Instead, in 1992 Kawamoto restructured the company by slashing his beloved Formula One racing division and by introducing a top-down management style, with performance-based promotions...

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