Honda Creates Web Buzz for Ad Character

NEW YORK Honda has expanded its presence in social media, launching an Internet teaser campaign for its 2007 Element broadcast push.

The carmaker has centered its Web efforts on Gil the Crab, an animated crustacean and one of several creatures to appear in previous Honda Element ads. Honda agency RPA said Gil, with his “I pinch” catchphrase, was the most popular among the commercial characters.

Honda hopes to build more Web buzz through a deal with The Smoking Gun, the Court TV-owned Web site known for posting celebrity mugshots and court documents. The site will chronicle Gill’s trouble with the law.

Gil already has his own MySpace page (, where he sounds off on the supposed decision to exclude him from upcoming Element TV ads. The page also directs users to Gill’s “personal” Web page,, where visitors can sign an online petition (13,000 have done so). In addition, Gil has gotten nearly 4,000 comments on the page. (Honda is also selling t-shirts and other Gil paraphernalia through Cafe Press, a custom shirt and merchandise company.)

RPA is driving traffic to Gill’s MySpace page and dedicated site through search engine advertising on Google and Yahoo. For example, a Yahoo search for “crab” returns a text ad reading “Save the ‘I pinch’ Crab,” and a link to Other search ads link to Gill’s MySpace page.

The effort is part of a broader marketing trend, in which social networking sites play larger roles in ad campaigns, and often serve as complements to brand sites. In its “Element and Friends” push last year, for instance, RPA focused solely on driving traffic to

RPA has tried to add authenticity to Gil’s MySpace presence by giving the creature a blog and allowing him to respond to his friends.

“What we’re trying to do is bridge the gap and use MySpace like people do,” said J Barbush, associate creative director at RPA. “They know if they send a message to Gil the Crab they’re going to get a response.”

Edmund Purcell, management supervisor of interactive at RPA, said the agency chose to center the viral efforts on Gil because of the 2005 “Element and Friends” commercials, his were the most popular, getting over 200,000 views on YouTube.

“It’s easy for us to get immediate feedback,” he said of social media sites. “It’s almost like putting a marketing thermometer out there.”

Gil is not the first ad character to develop a MySpace following. Burger King’s “The King” has gathered 111,000 friends, in part by giving fans free access to Web streams of Fox programs like 24 and Family Guy.

Honda will break Element TV on Sept. 28.