Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Honda's Rainbow of “Passionate Opinions”

Today was just another reminder that social media marketing is still in its infancy.

After a couple weeks promoting the new Accord Crosstour on Facebook, Honda released the official photos revealing the design that any good Googler could’ve found on Car and Driver weeks ago. It was the latest trend in CUV/SUV/SAV – or as I like to call it SUC (sport utility coupe, pronounced “suck” of course, since the brands keep wanting to call these coupes) -- design that gave birth to the BMW X6, Acura ZDX and now the Honda Crosstour.

What made a rather dull product debut not so dull were the “passionate opinions” Honda’s PR representative @Alicia_at_Honda heard on the Facebook wall. It seems Alicia was caught a bit off guard, but shouldn't this event be expected?

The most recent case study on allowing a free-for-all consumer discussion about your product is the fiasco from Skittles. Back in March, Skittles decided to make Twitter their brand site’s home page. The approach used a hyperlink that returned the Twitter search page with the keyword “Skittles”. This showed all of the Skittles comments, discussions happening about the brand in real-time on the popular social networking site, thereby, allowing Skittles to showcase all of the buzz from their fans.

What happened is a lesson in Sigmund Freud's crowd behavior theory.
People who are in a crowd act differently towards people from those who are thinking individually. The minds of the group would merge to form a way of thinking. Each member's enthusiasm would be increased as a result, and one becomes less aware of the true nature of one's actions.
People found out that any comment using the word “Skittles” would appear on the candy’s website and that many people were coming to the site since it was such a new concept and was getting a lot of publicity. The Skittles Twitter search became the bathroom wall allowing people to say hi to their friends, promote their own goods and showcase their personality. Some of the comments included things like “Hitler eats Skittles” and “If you eat Skittles you support killing kittens and puppies.”

The Skittles experiment was successful in driving traffic as their site had a 1332% increase in one-day of traffic. Unfortunately, it was more successful for mockery and less so for positive brand buzz. Soon Skittles backed away from the idea by changing their home page.

Honda’s Accord Crosstour reveal on Facebook wasn’t as revolutionary; in fact, a lot of autos are promoted on Facebook. In contrast, BMW has been revealing their X1 compact SUV over Facebook too, yet it didn’t get the same public humiliation Honda did. Why? The most likely reason is that BMW is not running media to the X1 or promoting it as actively as Honda is with the Accord Crosstour.

The Crosstour has been running Facebook advertising promoting the coming reveal for weeks and even had a page on the US Honda site showing a countdown clock for when the Crosstour would debut. The Honda Crosstour content on also promotes the Facebook page with the call to action “Join the discussion on Facebook, and become a fan.” Media promotion brought the Crosstour to the masses.

By promoting the Crosstour Facebook page as the key destination for the reveal, it gave people a public wall to criticize everything they didn’t like about the Crosstour or any decision by the Honda Corporation.

The wall comments started off with some good and some bad views on the design, but it later picked up in the day, as word spread across social media,that Honda was openly seeking feedback on this new, rather fuggly looking SUC. At some point the comments became outright rude and worse offensive. People started to use the Facebook wall as a fame play showcasing how witty and obnoxious they could be, very much like the Skittles fiasco.

All of this begs the question: Should automotive companies launch and promote products using social media platforms instead of more traditional marketing websites?

Sure the upside is real-time feedback but the downside is real-time feedback. With the Skittles and now Honda example, the underbelly side is the high jinks of everyone who wants their moment of fame at your brand’s expense.

What's sad with this implementation is that it fails on so many content levels. I think the marketing people are caught up in the social media aspect talking about how great it will be to engage conversation that they forget the herd mentality and worse forget about what content serious consumers or automotive enthusiasts want.

The Crosstour team is using a staggered reveal approach where small bits of information are shared at timed intervals. Unfortunately, for those who come to the experience early they get very little information and, in this case, get a wall to voice their frustration or simply are bored with the minimal content that they start trashing the destination.

Today's reveal featured a few renderings of the vehicle and almost no information on the Facebook site: No information on product features, no specifications, not even an interior photo was shown. So anyone seriously interested about learning more ended up on a Facebook site with some lunatic exclaiming, "Congrats Honda! You made the Ugliest Honda EVER!" Cool. Just what I wanted to know. Now can someone tell me if it gets 230 MPG?


Honda's Official Response to all of this.

Honda removes comments from Eddie Okubo, product manager at Honda, who made some "unofficial" statements on the Facebook page.


Anonymous said...

I agree that Honda's marketing choice on releasing the Crosstour was a bad one. However, the majority of the negative comments on the Crosstour twitter page shouldn't be written off as people trying to be as obnoxiously witty as possible.

A lot of the comments are made by people who are honestly upset that Honda was going to release a wagon (something that they've had in Europe for decades) and then released a hatchback. I hope that Honda does take the feedback left on their Facebook page seriously.

jack said...

social media shouldn't replace existing promotional/advertising channels, it should augment them. It's just another "medium" it's not a silver bullet, or "cure-all"... It should be part of a larger more cohesive marketing strategy.

In my opinion this is an opportunity for Honda. Sure, some people are just trying to be funny/mean, but some are being honest. They took the time to comment which means they care. Honda can open a dialogue with them and discuss their issues/concerns. This is an opportunity for Honda to educate and convert.

It's "social media", and the brand needs to be "social". Social channels are not just more outlets to push your message to the consumer. It's two way, and that's empowering for the brand and the consumer.