Honda Sells Hybrid Without the Hype

The evolution of hybrid cars from automotive oddity to mainstream product category continues today, as American Honda Motor Co. launches a spot out of Rubin Postaer and Associates for its Civic Hybrid.

In the ad, a brainiac’s Civic Hybrid science-fair entry leaves teachers wondering if his parents helped him with the car and how he got it in the gym. By expanding on the popular Civic line and presenting the science as child’s level, Honda aims to make the once-futuristic car seem reliably routine. “Treating it as a normal Civic broadens its appeal,” said Bill Hagelstein, evp and COO at the independent Santa Monica, Calif., shop.

Honda’s other hybrid is the two-door Insight. Since 2002, the client has spent $2 million marketing a small run of 6,000 Insights, according to Nielsen Monitor-Plus—less than one-tenth of what Toyota Motor Sales spent on its Prius hybrid in the same period. On Oct. 17, Toyota launches a three-spot global campaign, estimated at $50 million, for the 2004 Prius [Adweek, Sept. 15] out of Publicis Groupe’s Saatchi & Saatchi in Torrance, Calif. Toyota has 9,700 pre-orders in hand, nearly all 1,200 dealers aboard and a sales goal of 36,000.

Some 25,000 2004 Honda Civic Hybrids are in the pipe, and the science-fair spot “will get disproportionate play,” said Eric Conn, vp of national automobile advertising, “because it lends itself to brand building and says a lot about Honda’s innovation and leadership.”

Jim Lentz, Toyota’s vp of marketing, said he expects the hybrid segment to double in size each year, from three models to 21 by 2007. Having a rival like Honda step in also helps the market, he said. “Early adopters don’t care about risk,” he said. “But the ‘majority buyer’ has to see more history.”