Case Study: Honda and Facebook
Honda has recently had a push adding social media to their marketing mix. The most widely received is their set up of an official Facebook fan page at www.facebook.com/Honda. The featured campaign “Everyone knows somebody who loves a Honda” is mediocre, in my opinion, but it’s really the Facebook fan follower response that matters. The campaign was part of the auto giant’s plan to talk about their core values while sticking to a tight budget. The idea is that Honda owners use the site to link to friends and create a global web. In turn, Honda can demonstrate how Honda is connected to everyone else. They refer to this campaign on their page as a “global social experiment”. Although when reading comments from the creative minds behind it, they say “It’s really an awareness campaign on a limited budget.” Not that we marketers and social media users haven’t already figured that out.
While the positioning is hardly original, and the page doesn’t look much different from a car manufacturer’s website, especially given the humdrum lineup of Honda models with devoted pages for each model, it’s enough of a hook to attract the target audience. As of November 10, 266,908 fans can’t be wrong. To participate in the “global social experiment” simply go to facebook.com/honda and click on the button “I love a Honda (current or past)” or “I know somebody who loves a Honda”. You get the idea.
It wasn’t their first foray into social media, but certainly their broadest campaign. They had tried much smaller social media efforts as part of their marketing mix to promote specific vehicles from the Honda family. These included a MySpace page for Element, and then Facebook pages for Fit and the hybrid Insight. Honda was initially hesitant to open up the two-way dialogue. “You open yourself up; it’s risky, but with the success of Fit and Insight with Facebook, they were able to see the advantage,” says Joe Baratelli, SVP and creative director at Honda’s creative agency RPA in a recent article on Mediapost. Ads and offers are noticeably missing from the Facebook page. However, one of the first user comments I saw was from a guy (possibly car dealer) with a car to sell, so there is no stopping users from doing their own advertisements.
It seems that Honda just might be quickly learning from very recent mistakes. They used Facebook within the past few months to plug their Accord Crosstour, which will be available beginning November 20. With a measly 6,745 fans as of November 10, the Facebook page seemed more of a product info dump than anything else, as evidenced by the repurposing of the product press releases on their info page. And consumers used the site to dig into Honda. Consumers were quick to jump on comments about how poor the design looked and that it was a dumb idea for Honda to produce the car. A Honda employee posted a comment about how much he loved the design, except that he didn’t note that he was actually employed by the company.
It didn’t take much time before the auto blogs railed about the faux pas and even though Honda removed the comment, the damage had already been done. I think, as I’m sure many of the Facebook consumers do, that this was completely unethical. They further railed on Honda because the auto maker was perceived as trying to clean up a mess when consumers were too smart to know what they were doing. Honda came back with a very carefully crafted corporate response that mostly defended their point of view. They claimed, for example, that they removed the original employee comment not to try to pretend it never was posted but because he’d actually violated their policy that prohibits such comments without being transparent about stating that he was an employee.
Hopefully, with Honda’s new fan page mentioned earlier, they’ll be mindful of some of their recent blunders. With a much larger audience at stake, they’ll have much more on the line this time if they don’t.