Billboards Talk Up Honda

LOS ANGELES After a week of fine-tuning the technology in key cities, Honda is rolling out 162 “talking” billboards in major U.S. markets starting this week, according to independent agency RPA.

The outdoor advances the “Element and friends” campaign featuring the Honda SUV in humorous conversations with various animals. The billboard teases passers-by (“What would an Element and a crab talk about?”) and instructs them to tune in to a specific radio frequency, using the theoretical vacant spectrum space on the FM dial in the manner of FM transmitters for portable listening devices.

Within a two-mile radius, drivers hear comedy radio spots, which direct listeners to a Web site for additional material. It’s a first for Honda, according to Sharon Enright, vice president and associate media director at RPA, Santa Monica, Calif.

“We worked closely with [svp, creative director] Joe Baratelli and [svp, creative director] David Smith’s group on the ‘Element and friends’ campaign,” said Enright. “The original plan was designed around the Internet, but people started liking the concept. When it was a hit at the dealer meeting, we knew we had to take it broader.”

Enright said this second phase of the campaign included some television (currently airing) and the talking billboards, which provide a 60-second loop of a spot that drives riders to the elementandfriends.com Web site. She maintains that the billboards combine the advantages of traditional outdoor with attention-getting novelty.

“We started niche-y, but now we’re trying to raise awareness of the vehicle, which is not high for the nameplate,” Enright said. “The billboards will strengthen our general market awareness.”

The billboards will communicate to drivers for 30 days in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland and Akron, Ohio, Dallas, Houston and Fort Worth, Texas, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, St. Petersburg and Tampa, Fla., New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

Campaign spending is undisclosed. Last year American Honda Motors of Torrance, Calif., spent $30 million advertising the Element, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Element sales are up 5 percent to 7,600 units over last year through February 2005, per Car Concepts in Thousand Oaks, Calif.