Honda, Toyota Make A U-Turn For Customers

Men who drive Honda CR-Vs may not see themselves in the brand’s new campaign, which broke last Thursday. A departure from its extreme sports-oriented “built for reality” positioning, Honda’s six new spots are decidedly more, well, girlie.

In the first spot, “Elvis,” Honda’s CR-V is twisting to Elvis Presley’s “Burning Love” (the camera swoops in to Graceland mapped on the newly added navigation system). The other spots to come are even more overtly feminine. They include: chocolate-covered strawberries moving through an assembly line as the visual cuts to a CR-V being similarly coated; transparent versions of the entry-level SUV filling up with popcorn and hot coffee; and a female surfer lusting for tasty waves as she takes her surfboard from the car. The graphics focus on the letters CR-V in the word “crave”—which is also the name of the campaign.

Honda is hoping to expand its appeal, said Joe Baratelli, svp and cd at Honda’s agency, independent RPA, Santa Monica, Calif. This is the same reasoning behind the recent repositioning of Toyota’s RAV4, a traditionally female-skewing SUV now being targeted to younger men.

“We’re not running from where we’ve been; the Honda values still drive the work,” said Baratelli. “But the cues are a little more feminine, [a little more] emotional.”

As sales of large and midsize SUVs tank in the face of high gas prices and environmental backlash, smaller, entry-level SUVs provide the one bright spot in a darkening category. Entry-level SUVs are up 3 percent on the year through August to 280,000 units, while midsize SUVs are down a whopping 19 percent to 691,000 units and full size SUVs have dropped even further, 23 percent, to 330,000 units, according to Car Concepts, Thousand Oaks, Calif. For now, at least, selling smaller SUVs is the only game in town.

The ad campaign “should fish where the fish are,” said Tom Peyton, senior manager of national advertising at Toyota.

After airing work that targeted women, Toyota’s most recent spots for the RAV4 had been gender neutral. Its latest campaign, “The Heist”—which broke two weeks ago with the first of what may be several serialized spots, also called “The Heist”—has a dark, computer-oriented cityscape and a plot inspired by Ocean’s 11. (The computer-generated graphics are by New York animation company PsyOp.)

The repositioning is being done across all media. For Honda, consumers will be encouraged to post photos that represent their cravings on a CR-V-branded Web site. And a deal with Yahoo’s just-launched “Red Carpet” feature, dedicated to celebrity news and gossip, will have custom promotions. The SUV was also offered as a prize on the CBS show Rockstar Supernova. In addition, “Elvis” is being extended to 21,000 theaters.

Likewise, the story line for Toyota’s testosterone-fueled “Heist” will continue in print and outdoor, and eventually will introduce a female adversary on a motorbike. There will also be a “game-like” version of the spots online.