DETROIT –’s U.S. marketing department will be kept busy this year as the auto maker prepares to re-launch the Acura brand, advertise during Sunday’s Super Bowl and promote the upcoming ninth-generation Accord.
Michael Accavitti, American’s marketing chief, says first on his agenda is “kick-starting” Acura. “Acura as a brand for the past few years has fallen off people’s radar screens,” he tells WardsAuto in an interview here. “People aren’t even thinking about us, so our mission No.1 is to get Acura noticed.”
A key move in this direction will be a 60-second TV commercial during the National Football League’s Super Bowl on Feb. 5, a first for Acura, which will feature the antics of comedians Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno as they jockey to be the first to take delivery of the upcoming Acura NSX supercar that launches in 2015. The “Transaction” spot will air during the third quarter.
The Super Bowl campaign includes a pregame release of a 1-minute, 50-second extended version of the Acura ad, the auto maker says.
The Honda brand also will have an ad during the game that will feature actor Matthew Broderick reprising his film role as Ferris Bueller, who skips work to spend the day driving his new CR-V cross/utility vehicle.
Accavitti says 110 million people watched the Super Bowl last year, and “the NFL is even more popular this year. There’s no better way to reach a large portion of the United States population (than by) participating in (the) Super Bowl.”
Acura sales have been on a downward spiral in recent years, falling 7.7% in 2011. The brand also has suffered from poorly defined positioning in the marketplace.
After years of striving for Tier 1 status alongside, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and Lexus, Honda senior officials see Acura better-positioned as a near-luxury brand.
But Accavitti says he won’t settle for trying to woo only near-luxury or mass-market buyers. “From an image standpoint, nobody aspires to be mediocre or good enough,” he says. “And the Acura brand is the same way.
“This Tier-1 thing, I don’t want to say it gets mixed up in the media because it is a little complex, but we are a luxury brand, not a premium brand. We are a luxury brand…and we are going to benchmark ourselves and talk about our attributes against those luxury makes.”
However, Accavitti sees Acura’s key pool of buyers as being the 80% of consumers who aspire to own a luxury car, not the 10% who do, and those who desire a synergy between themselves and their vehicle.
Acura this spring is launching the all-new ILX compact sedan, as well as the next-generation RDX small CUV. Three years down the road, a production version of the NSX supercar concept is due. The vehicle was shown at last month’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
While it may not be an important motivator for supercar buyers, Honda plans to highlight the NSX’s Ohio lineage, at least in online ads, Accavitti says. The car will be built at a yet-to-be- announced Honda assembly plant in the state. Previous generations were produced in Japan.
From a marketing perspective, the Honda brand also has a busy 2012, with the ad campaign for the new CR-V in full swing and the next Accord going on sale later in the year.
The Accord will face fierce competition from new midsize-car entrants, including the ’13Fusion, ’13 Chevy Malibu and older-but-still strong Camry and Sonata. But Accavitti is up to the challenge.
“I love it – game on,” he says. “We’re very excited. We’ve got a great product, a segment leader. And we have every intention of furthering the gap we have with our competition. Our advertising and marketing is going to have to do the job of furthering the gap, as well.”
Although it tumbled to fourth place last year, the Accord traditionally is the No.2 best-selling midsize car in the U.S., just behind the Camry.
Honda is beginning to gauge reaction to actor Patrick Warburton as its pitchman for the brand’s TV holiday ads. Accavitti says feedback so far has been good and that he will be retained for unspecified future promotional events.
The ads were reduced from plan when some vehicle builds and inventory suffered following parts shortages due to the catastrophic floods in Thailand last year.
“We dialed (the frequency of commercials) back for our Happy Honda Days event,” Accavitti says. “There’s no sense in generating demand if you don’t have the cars when people come to the store. It actually frustrates everyone, including the customer and the dealer.”
Low inventory, as well as strong year-ago comparison, was the culprit behind American Honda’s 18.8% sales decline in December, he says.