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Talking billboards tout Honda SUV

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Talking billboards tout Honda SUV

Motorists driving by can tune radios to broadcast and listen to a quirky message.

Josee Valcourt / The Detroit News

"What does a Honda Element and platypus have in common?" That's the question Honda Motor Co. is posing in 16 major markets around the country.

Drivers, including Michiganians southbound on Interstate 75 near Interstate 94, are advised to tune in to a specific radio frequency to find out.

Those who oblige might hear a conversation between the vehicle and a platypus at a cocktail party.

The new commercials, part of the "Element and Friends" advertising campaign which began last fall, play within five miles of the billboards.

At a time when automakers are striving to get more bang than ever from their advertising budgets, and cut through the clutter, Honda's move exemplifies inexpensive marketing that mixes technology and wit.

"There are hundreds and thousands of automotive commercials. If you could create an ad that has a breakthrough factor like that, you know what, that's a good thing," said Tom Peyton, head of Honda's national advertising.

Last November, the automaker launched its Element and Friends Web site.

The site relies on viral marketing, a method that distributes ad messages from person to person through e-mails, to generate buzz online.

"From a business standpoint, it's a very efficient campaign to run because it works great online. It's not expensive to produce. It's cute and witty and it still sells products," Peyton said.

The quirky Element saw its sales drop by 6 percent during 2005 to 56,262 units. During the first two months of 2006, sales are up 5 percent.

Peyton declined to divulge the cost of the campaign, which now includes television commercials, but said the billboards and Web site were inexpensive.

Advertising experts are hailing both a success.

"The Honda Element and friend campaign is on the cutting edge of advertising in the automobile industry. It breaks through the clutter," said Gregory Solman, an editor at Adweek.com.

"Ironically, the ads that are getting attention are the quieter ads, the ones that are not showing a lot of sheet metal and cars zooming in the streets," Solman said.

Tim Calkins, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management, said Honda's billboard and Web site is part of a new marketing approach many companies are taking because they feel traditional media no longer works.

"It's very easy for consumers to bypass traditional media," Calkins said.

But the same could be true for billboards transmitting radio frequencies and interactive Web sites.

"The challenge for something like this is it's very hard to evaluate the impact and tough to really get millions and millions of people to go online," he said. Honda may intrigue motorists stuck in traffic but what about other drivers coasting along, he questions.

These types of marketing can also be difficult in reaching customers beyond a target market, said Michael Bernacchi, a marketing professor at the University of Detroit Mercy.

"You don't have a broader slot," he said.

However, Bernacchi, who hasn't seen the board on I-75, lauded Honda's latest effort. "This idea of going from medium to medium to connect with consumers certainly speaks to the desire and value of intensifying the (marketing) experience," he said.

Link: http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/artic.../603070343/1148

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If this interferes with any of the radio stations that I listen to, or with my FM transmitter for my mp3 player.........I'm going to sue Honda!!


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Yes, I saw that billboard for the first time on my commute this moring on Interstate 680 in Martinez/Pacheco and was wondering what it all was about. Needless to say I was not interested enough to even note what tadio dial it wanted us to tune into. No interest in the tupperewar box= no interest in tuning in. I wonder how successful this ad campaign will be.

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Whoever put the Honda billboard on N Dale Mabry Blvd in Tampa by the stadium, you need to fix your f**king transmitter unless the conversation between your box and the crab is supposed to sound like Tejano music mixed with static.

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