RPA Tries Pilot Program for Honda

LOS ANGELES Faced with relaunching the Honda Pilot SUV with gas prices rising and car sales declining, RPA’s Eric Helin (copy) and Nathan Crow (art) chose to humorously emphasize new features in a campaign that presents the vehicle in a series of bizarre situations.

The most obvious comedic turn starts Thursday. NBC’s Last Comic Standing and RPA developed a “Last Driver Standing” contest in which comedians (not ones appearing on the show) perform comedy routines inside a Pilot, with the host sitting in the passenger seat and an “audience” piled in back.

Viewers will vote on the best routine and the winner gets to perform a 90-second set on the show’s season finale.

Overall “this is a tough vehicle to launch,” said Crow. “So we continue with the idea of a sense of humor because lots of other SUVs are losing theirs.”

Their approach, per Helin, was to cast the SUV as a “Swiss Army knife on wheels,” inventing “ridiculous situations that only the Pilot can solve.”

In one commercial breaking this week, a father and son come across elderly nudist balloonists who’ve accidentally dropped onto the road. After loading them in the vehicle, the father hesitates to look behind him, and the son suggests using the Pilot rear-view camera.

In a cinema spot breaking Friday, a driver comes across a man whose jet pack has failed. “Find nearest jet pack refueling station,” the driver says, highlighting the SUV’s voice-activated navigation.

On the Honda Pilot microsite, the creative team designed “Readysodes” featuring two young men who demonstrate various features in comic vignettes that can be customized by the user. The branch-tree stories can take various turns based on the buttons selected.

Helin said the comedy has to be carefully crafted to appeal to the family target, avoiding the Jackass-type humor that appeals to a younger set. Helin said he and Crow used themselves as a gauge: “We asked, does it make us laugh and is it pertinent to the brand?”

American Honda Motors, Torrance, Calif., spent $50 million on Pilot ads in 2007 and $15 million in the first quarter of 2008, per Nielsen Monitor-Plus.

Sales of the now six-year-old Pilot are down 11 percent through April to 41,000 units, per Car Concepts.

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