Honda Ads Get Extra Play From Music Downloads

NEW YORK In an effort to link its brand more closely to one of the strongest passions of its target audience—cutting-edge music—Honda is launching a unique campaign that will tie its Civic model to dozens of new songs and music videos being released throughout the fourth quarter by Sony BMG.

The Torrance, Calif.-based carmaker is utilizing nontraditional media platforms combined with viral and experiential elements to execute the strategy.

Starting this week, the carmaker will sponsor the online release of songs and videos from artists like Avril Lavigne, Christina Aguilera, Dido, Alicia Keys, The Fray and others, by way of a media player that will feature exclusive Honda branding, original 15-second pre-roll ads and interactive buttons that will direct viewers and listeners seeking more information about the brand to the Honda Web site.

Sony BMG is distributing the branded media player to a network of hundreds of Web sites, including those created by or for many of the artists on its roster, related record labels and numerous fan-based sites. The Sony BMG content is also downloadable to a host of social networking sites and blogs.

The campaign marks the first time that Sony BMG has sold an ad package encompassing all of its new music video releases to a single sponsor via its year-old Web site, Sony BMG Music Box. Neither the client nor Sony would discuss pricing, but sources said Honda is paying between $500,000 and $1 million for the new-release sponsorship.

“Being associated with new music just released is very exciting to us,” said Jenny Howell, manager of interactive marketing. “It helps create the impression that Honda is cutting edge and on the forefront with our youth target.” The core demographic for the Civic brand is adults aged 18 to 34.

According to Edmund Purcell, who oversees the Honda account at RPA, Santa Monica, Calif., one objective of the Music Box campaign is to create an “experience” for the Civic’s young audience—a musical experience that the audience will clearly associate with the brand. “Music is much more important to our youth target than it has ever been,” said Purcell. “Technology allows them to access it from many different sites, so you need to be where they are. They also understand that without sponsors this kind of content is harder to get.”

The tie-in with Sony BMG is part of Honda’s broader ad campaign to promote the 2008 Civic models, which are just hitting showrooms now. The music video campaign specifically promotes the high-performance Civic SI series.

According to Amy Carney, president of advertiser sales, Sony Pictures Television, which is responsible for selling sponsorships in the Music Box service, the player is designed to encourage viral distribution of both the music and the Honda ads. “They are transportable,” she said. “They can be downloaded and pasted onto MySpace home pages” and other social networking sites and blogs, she added.

According to Howell, the ability to customize the player with Honda branding is a big plus. “We really like having that level of integration with a media partner,” she said. “Every place that they play on the Web they will be accompanied by a message about the Honda Civic.”

And how will the client judge success? “We hope to drive a lot of listeners back to the Honda site to find out more about the Civic,” said Howell. “Ultimately that is what it is all about.”

That said, brand reinforcement is also a key metric. “We will do online branding studies and look at people’s awareness and thoughts about the brand before and after” the campaign period, she said. “We’ll also look at click-through rates and what they do on the Web site once they actually get there.”

The Music Box service releases new songs and videos every Tuesday. Starting Oct. 8 and continuing throughout the fourth quarter, Honda will select the titles it wants to be associated with the Civic brand. For the most part, those titles will fall within the pop/rock genre. “We’re not going to do any opera,” joked Howell, when asked about parameters. Also excluded: songs with lyrics that might run afoul of FCC decency guidelines.

Purcell also said the pre-roll :15s would be original Web-specific spots. “We don’t just cut [TV spots] down to the right level,” he said. He declined to talk more specifically about the new creative before it debuts, other than to say it will be “consistent” with the brand’s “Reverse your thinking” theme, which debuted a year ago.

A Flash component on the player will feature that tagline, along with a Civic that drives across the page. When it is clicked, a button on the Honda logo embedded in the player will take the consumer to the Honda Web site for more information about the brand.

According to Carney of Sony Pictures Television, Honda is essentially being sold a set number of impressions. “The impression is generated when the ad is launched,” which occurs simultaneously with the launch of the player, she said.

Although Honda has first dibs on all new Music Box releases for the fourth quarter, Sony is talking to other advertisers about sponsoring packages that are configured differently.

“There are other ways to slice and dice it,” said Carney, noting that the entire library of thousands of music videos is available for sponsorship.

Recently, AT&T also signed an agreement to sponsor a package that is more limited in scope compared to the Honda deal, Sony said, without providing further details. AT&T confirmed the sponsorship, but declined to comment further.