New age media is here to stay whether we like it or not. The advent of internet has brought a new channel for advertiser to be used creatively or just as a simple tool in the already diverse medium to advertise. The use of emails to advertise was deemed effective as it has 100% delivery rate to the intended person or group mail account if the matter in question involves group mail or mailing lists. As years goes by, advertising through emails are now considered an act of annoyance and people dubbed this effort as spamming. As modern email accounts and clients have active spam filters, advertising through emails are not deemed effective anymore.
The emergence of social networking sites like Friendster, Twitter and Facebook is like an oasis in the dessert. Advertisers do not have to worry anymore with cluttered air space of traditional media like prints, TVs, and radios where the seemingly crowded space never guarantees the message get through the intended target market without significant cost of high frequency. Advertisers can easily targets groups of people according to age and interests just by seeing what group these people follows in their respective social networks. It mimics the success of advertising through emails before advertisers cluttered the channel and making people go against it.
Moonfruit, a hosting/Web Design Company in America, used twitter to promote themselves, with great result. The participant only needs to write Moonfruit on their twitter update and they are in to win a Macbook Pro. The resulting effort becomes viral, and Moonfruit popularity soared sky high as even local TV news (CNN) picked up the story, making the company seemingly “free advertisement” had become a global phenomenon which attracts far beyond the planned target audience. As such, some perceive the internet as the best tool in modern marketing currently available.
The Fall of Perception
Honda of America, as one of the leading automotive company in the United States was also intrigued to use this newly established channel to advertise. Using Facebook, Honda did teaser marketing on their launch of new line of car called Accord Crosstour (click to visit Crosstour Facebook page). At no cost at all to join Facebook and establish a product page, Honda of America CPM is nonexistent, but it manage to reach hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of Facebook users. When the teaser pictures revealed one by one on Honda Facebook page, the responds were good, Facebook users and follower of Honda Crosstour Facebook account cannot wait to see a new line of car based on the successful Honda Accord series.
Crosstour unique fascia
It is not until the car was completely unveiled, the unexpected happened. The curiosity comments became violently negative. Hate words came out from the masses and Honda Crosstour comment page was filled with negative comments. Honda even had to delete several comments (28) and one comment from Honda own product planner (click to see the link). Several online automotive media picks up the story and even more damaging publicity ran loose on the internet. Honda damage control was by putting notes on the Crosstour Facebook page by saying things like “the car was accepted very well by the demographics/target market per their internal research”, “and several comments were out of line and not in line with Honda corporate effort”. Honda even stated that the car was not pleasant to look at on the angles that were on the pictures when the car was finally unveiled. Honda changed the color from silver to red and features more photos from different angles. Photos from Honda own press kits that should not be displayed yet until the car official launch later this year. The damage is done and Honda notes further fuel the flame of bad words to new high.
No Wrong Step Just Wrong Channel
My analysis of this incident is that Honda is too eager to use new age media and misjudge the capacity and channel usage of the demographics. Speaking technically, The Crosstour is a good car. The car was a crossover between full size sedan and an SUV. Low center of gravity means driving dynamics would not be as compromised as in tall SUV. It’s a hatch, meaning people of all sizes can access the cargo bay with ease. Honda press kit reads that the seating position will be elevated like in SUV, giving great driving view. The car will features four wheel drive system which will allow it to go on snowy, muddy, wet areas without problem. The engine itself reportedly will use Accord own 3.5L which offers more than enough power to satisfy Americans with their preference of power over efficiency. A good car technically, but visually, it has some questionable lines. The car has huge blocky front end, a design cue taken straight from Accord. However, it has a sloping rear hatch which does not go very well with the symmetrical front end.
Aerodeck/fastback design is clean
I would guess visually, Honda deliberately made the car to look like Honda Accord; after all, the Accord is Honda of America top 3 biggest selling cars. Marketing wise, Honda would want to associate Crosstour with the Accord to indicate lineage and thus relying on Accord brand equity to push sales; hence the name, Accord Crosstour.
Regarding the demographics, Honda did not reveal any specifics but here is my definition of the targets based on the available facts. Accord Crosstour targeted demographics are established people, somebody who values practicality (hatchback), have excess disposable income to fuel the thirsty car (big engine + 4WD system), and is associated with Accord (mature). Looking at the simple facts the car brought, we can see clearly the intended target market. Roughly sketching from their slice of life, I conclude that Accord Crosstour demography is aged around 34-45, SES A to A+, economically stable with excess income, senior managers or higher, sensible and practical.
According to Internet & American Life Project (PEW), these sort of people falls into the Gen X category. A mature older generation which still embrace change and technology, unlike past generation baby boomers. However, this is where I find a fault in Honda approach on using Facebook to unveil the new Accord Crosstour.
Stark differences in habits of browsing according to survey
PEW research data (click to download original survey data) clearly indicates that Teens and Gen Y are the majority users of social networking sites; whereas the Accord Crosstour was targeted at the Gen X group. This discrepancy alone should already warned Honda at the impending comments thrown out by non targets especially those who still consider fashion over function (teens and the young at heart). The biggest problem of all is not just about the negative comments, but the amount of negative comments is there. When Honda entered the social networking site, they should be aware of the normative social influence phenomenon which dictates a group behavior as a whole.
Social networking sites are in essence a meeting place of groups of people. Those who are not a group will join a group and with the metaphysical bonds of internet it’s a group bonded with fragile existence. In their book, Aronson, Wilson & Akert (Social Psychology), normative social influence dictates that to belong, a person will join a group cohesive respond. As such, internet users are susceptible to mass opinion which has been initially created. In this case, negative comments for Honda Accord Crosstour. The anonymity aspect of internet commenter is also at play here. Under the disguise of nicknames and email accounts, a person can speak to their heart content without needing to heed manners of speaking.
Tread Slowly and Take The Right Step
Some believe that any publicity is a good publicity, as it will make the object in question will be at the top of the mind. Coupled with coverage from other media, it is hoped becoming viral, creating buzz marketing. However, personally I found this is disturbing to say the least. Bad publicity is bad publicity no matter how we look at it. It might become a top of mind, but a top of mind on negative terms or at least not the perceived value they wanted. Awareness might be high, but it will prevent the masses or wider target audience even from entering “Interest” aspect of AIDA. While our competitors are trying to do what they can to tease our intended target market sway towards them, using the bad publicity we have gathered as a leveraged towards them.
The use of Internet as a medium to advertise is a great idea. However, I concur that when selecting media to advertise, we need to go back to the basic by analyzing which media to use based on the target market preference. Most companies which successfully advertised using social networking media usually works around the internet itself, thus the relevance of using the internet as medium.
Honda Accord Crosstour Facebook fiasco was caused by Honda eagerness to adopt new age media, without considering thoroughly who the majority user of social networking was. Free advertising is one thing, but targeted media coupled with creative approach are still the key success factor to win the attention of target markets in today’s crowded media.
This short analysis was actually a case study I submitted to an agency when I applied for a planner position. A bit much I think, but considering that I’ve been working on client side for quite a while, a case study to showcase what I can deliver to them should be sufficient.
In short, does Honda made a mistake using Facebook to market the Crosstour? Personally I think is yes, it’s a blunder. Most people (including me) always look at face value, that we draw conclusion based on what I see first/first impression. When the Crosstour was revealed, it just looked weird on the photos, no specs, no driving impression, just weird car on photos.
I wonder why Honda didn’t just used the same ol’ media outlet like automotive reviewers? Because reading every bit review of the car net brilliant result. Not much cargo space, but refinement, driving, and comfort scores full marks. The reviews creates positive marks for the Crosstour, and Honda can utilize this reviews rather than using Facebook.