Friday, September 7, 2007

Honda's SoCal Street Buzz

A 2006 Gallup poll rating 23 occupations for honesty and ethical standards ranked auto salesmen at the bottom. Acknowledging this, Southern California's Honda dealers united to change their image by hiring an advertising agency to implement a marketing campaign combining street tactics with advertisements that suggest that auto salesmen aren't the bad guys you might think they are. (Ironically, ad agencies ranked just above auto salesmen in that poll, which kind of makes you wonder if this was the way to go . . . .)

The campaign involved sending teams of "dealership representatives" in blue Honda shirts to the streets to perform random acts of kindness. Here's my problem with this: With few exceptions, these reps were not auto salesmen. They were people hired by the ad agency, Secret Weapon Marketing, for the project. This campaign would have had a greater impact -- and wonderful grassroots publicity potential -- if the blue-shirted team members were actually auto salesmen rather than actors portraying auto salesmen. Pat Adams, the agency's managing director, told me in an e-mail that the salesmen needed to be in the showrooms selling cars but that in a few situations, dealers did send them out into the field.

Beyond that, changing your image long-term is pretty difficult if you're not changing the behavior that created the image in the first place. Your "new" image has to reflect reality. So what if you have nice-acting guys doing nice things in the name of Honda dealers throughout the region if the real Honda dealers aren't changing their own behaviors in the showroom to reflect the good works commited on the streets? This campaign will fail if the guys who wear the blue shirts in the dealerships every day don't display honesty and integrity. Maybe they do. Maybe they always have. But if they don't, all the costumed actors in Orange County aren't going to make a difference in what happens in the showroom.

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