Honda Motor Company

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Honda Motor Company

2-1-1 Minami-Aoyama
Tokyo, 107-8556
Telephone: 81 3 34231111
Fax: 81 3 54121515
Web site:



In 2002 Honda Motor Company was the number-three Japanese automobile manufacturer in the world, behind Toyota and Nissan. While Honda's automobile sales in Japan and the United States were considered strong, sales in the United Kingdom and mainland Europe were thought to be weak, even though automobile production in the United Kingdom had been ongoing for a decade. Further, Honda vehicle sales had been declining in these regions since 1998. In response to these problems Honda hired ad agency Wieden+Kennedy's London office to create an advertising campaign that would directly address the issues.

"The Power of Dreams," released in 2002, was an omnipresent campaign in the United Kingdom and beyond, using television, direct mail, radio, posters, press, interactive television, cinema, magazines, motor shows, press launches, dealerships, postcards, beermats (coasters), and even traffic cones. It built upon Honda's company slogan, "Yume No Chikara," which was first endorsed in the 1940s by the company's founder, Soichiro Honda. Translated into English, it meant to "see" one's dreams. Wieden+Kennedy used this phrase as the basis of its question to consumers: "Do you believe in the power of dreams?" The global campaign, which centered on this tagline, included print and television components starring ASIMO, a humanoid robot developed by Honda. While the ASIMO ads gained widespread recognition, the 2003 television commercial called "Cog" was clearly a pinnacle of the campaign. In a single take with no special effects, more than 85 individual parts of the new Accord interacted in a complicated chain reaction. The spot won 37 advertising awards.

Honda considered "The Power of Dreams" an advertising success. Worldwide sales of Honda vehicles rose dramatically from 2002 through 2005, from 2.6 million units per year to 3.2 million units per year. In the United Kingdom sales improved by 28 percent. In Europe sales in 2002 increased from 170,000 to 196,000, which rose to 217,000 in 2003. The campaign also won IPA Advertising Effectiveness awards, British Television Advertising awards, and even a 2003 Gold Lion at the Cannes International Advertising Festival.


In April 1964 Honda spent $300,000 to sponsor the Academy Awards, becoming the first foreign corporate sponsor in the event's history. With the tagline "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," the Honda advertising campaign was a success, becoming one of the best-remembered advertising campaigns in the company's history. Nevertheless, although the campaign promoted Honda's motorcycles well, it did little to sell Honda vehicles. The reality was that Honda was better known for its motorcycles than it was for its cars. This long remained the case in most of the countries where Hondas were sold. In Japan, where big-splash promotional efforts for Honda's cars were common, the problem was not so severe. The 1981 campaign to promote Honda's model the City, for one, was omnipresent in Japan, incorporating large-scale TV, radio, and print advertising. There was even a variety of City novelty goods for sale and a specialty magazine called City Press.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Honda automobile production had yet to begin. Honda cars had been available there as imports, but not enough units were ordered to establish a presence. Further, the prices of imported cars could not compete with that of vehicles manufactured within the country. Thus, at the time, any sales push in the area focused on Honda motorbikes. In 1992, when Honda automobile production began in the United Kingdom, the shift toward promoting Honda automobiles there began, albeit slowly. But the potential market for the new manufacturing plant was huge: located in Swindon, England, it was responsible for producing vehicles well beyond the United Kingdom, including mainland Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. As such, Honda felt the need to begin a major campaign within the United Kingdom. Eventually it happened.

"The Power of Dreams" replaced the 1999 global tagline "Do You Have a Honda?" This earlier campaign employed print, radio, and television, and portrayed the dreams of Honda's founder, Soichiro Honda, who envisioned providing the world with all the possible means of travel. Soichiro Honda himself had repaired and created bicycles and motorcycles as well as both road cars and racing vehicles. The "Do You Have a Honda?" ads thus incorporated images of all of these means of transportation as well as more creative means, including a hot-air balloon and a cable car. Although the "Do You Have a Honda?" ads spread worldwide, the United Kingdom was barely affected by the campaign. From 1998 to 1999 Honda automobile sales in Europe dropped from 240,000 to 235,000. The decline continued through 2002. In the United Kingdom, Honda auto sales began to drop in 2000.

In 2002 "Do You Have a Honda?" was replaced with the campaign "The Power of Dreams." Although the tagline was part of a larger global focus, the campaign, under the leadership of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy in London, centered on promotional efforts within the United Kingdom.


"The Power of Dreams" targeted a large and diverse audience. While Honda wished to attract younger buyers, they were not the company's only focus. With a wide range of car models, from the lower-priced Civic to the higher-end Accord, Honda could potentially appeal to drivers within all age groups and socioeconomic statuses. All potential new buyers, whatever their age, represented Honda's target market. Thus, of the many different media that "The Power of Dreams" employed, television advertising, with its ability to reach a wide audience, was expected to be the most effective. Further, by portraying Hondas as hip and fun, the commercials appealed to a broad range of potential buyers.

Honda's new campaign mainly focused on raising public awareness of its cars—especially in Europe and the United Kingdom, where Honda was largely associated with motorcycles—and, in particular, getting new customers to visit Honda showrooms. There was also an emphasis on pleasing return customers. The company wished to improve communications with Honda owners and thus make them feel good about their choice of Honda; this in turn would convince them to buy a Honda the next time around.


Honda wanted real balloons to inflate from actors' ears in its 2005 "Dreams/Yume No Chikara" television commercial. To achieve this effect, devices were placed inside the ears; each had a small tube that was pulled behind the ear and taped to the actor's back. As the actors were playing their roles, the devices popped out, and the balloons (representing ideas considered by the actors) filled with air.


Worldwide, Honda was largely associated with its motorbikes. Toyota Motor Corp., on the other hand, was synonymous with Japanese automobiles. Japan's number one carmaker, Toyota brought in huge revenue from around the globe. While Honda was spending millions promoting its campaign "The Power of Dreams," Toyota was enjoying incredible revenue increases: from $129 billion in 2003, to $154 billion in 2004, to $173 billion in 2005. The sales were generally connected to Toyota's solid reputation for quality and value. To enhance this reputation, Toyota advertisements around the globe had been consistently reminding customers of the economical excellence of Toyota cars. At the same time another message had been spread: Toyota's concern for the environment (and for the price customers were paying for gasoline). In 2003 Toyota began a global campaign for its hybrid automobile, the Prius, which had been released in Japan in 1997. Toyota claimed that in 2003 Prius grabbed 90 percent of the worldwide hybrid-car market. Among its top competitors in the category was Honda, which had created two hybrid automobiles of its own: the Insight (developed in 2001) and the Civic Hybrid (developed in 2003).

In 2002 Japan's second-largest automaker, Nissan Motor Company ran a global marketing campaign of its own, titled "Shift." With the tagline "Shift can change a person, a life, the world, or it can simply change the way you move through it," it was Nissan's first-ever global campaign. Its launch coincided with the reintroduction of the popular Nissan Z, a sports car that had been sold from 1969 through 1996. When the Z was revived as the 350Z for model year 2003, those who had not preordered the vehicle had a difficult time getting one. To further confirm the car's success, the 350Z was named one of Car and Driver's "Ten Best" for 2003. Nissan's revenue climbed dramatically between 2002 and 2004. From 2002 to 2003 revenue increased from $47 billion to $57 billion. By 2003 the number had jumped to $70 billion.

While Honda's 2003 fiscal revenue of $66 billion reflected an 8.6 percent increase from the year prior, its revenue from auto sales was not quite enough to take over Nissan's number two spot in Japanese auto sales. Honda's 2003 automobile revenue was $54 billion, just below that of Nissan. But sales continued to rise during its "The Power of Dreams" campaign, bringing in $78 billion in revenue in fiscal 2004 and $81 billion in fiscal 2005.


In 2002 Honda wished to increase worldwide familiarity with its automobiles, especially within the European market. The use of ad agency Wieden+Kennedy in London confirmed a strong focus on the United Kingdom in particular. Before the launch of "The Power of Dreams," Honda thought that its name was too often connected to its motorcycles only, especially in Europe and the United Kingdom. Honda wanted to be equally known for its automobiles. Thus, Honda and Wieden+Kennedy attempted to convey that it was in fact a distinctively innovative car company. As a first step in doing so, Wieden+Kennedy developed "The Book of Dreams." Colorful and eclectic, it was part scrapbook, part information packet. It was fun, and it helped to illustrate Honda's identity, which the agency dubbed "Honda-ness." The book was used as a springboard for many of the campaign's subsequent ads. Next Honda formed "The Dream Factory," a committee with the task of maintaining a consistent philosophy while placing the campaign everywhere, including on television, in the mail, on posters, in the press, cinema, and magazines, and at motor shows.

In its print ads Honda depicted simple, everyday objects: a perfume bottle with the Honda name; a banana; a pencil; a stamp. Other ads displayed parts of the Honda vehicle, such as a stick shift, tires, and a muffler. There was a traffic cone draped in leopard fur and a brightly painted birdhouse. More complicated advertisements also were used: in one, a Honda CR-V was shown driving on a road lined with trees growing traffic lights on their branches, and in another the car drove past traffic-cone mountains. The television spots were equally diverse and interesting. Children played on a colorful jungle-gym model of a Honda in "Play." Honda Jazz vehicles were seen driving through cartoon worlds in "Pecking Order," "Seats," and "Bus Lane."

In the much-acclaimed TV spot "Cog," more than 85 individual parts of the new Accord interacted in a highly complicated chain reaction, ending with a voice-over that asked, "Isn't it nice when things just work?" The television spot was expensive to produce. The final 10 seconds used the voice of Garrison Keillor, voice of Public Radio's program Prairie Home Companion. In addition, the spot, which reportedly used no special effects, required the film crew to shoot it 606 times to get it right. At two minutes in length, air time for the complete commercial was extremely costly. The spot, first run during the Brazilian Grand Prix in April 2003, was met with awe.

The eclectic advertisements, still toting the tagline "The Power of Dreams," continued in 2005. "Dreams/Yume No Chikara," broadcast that year, showed Tokyo business leaders discussing different ideas. The ideas came out of their ears as real balloons, inflating, deflating, popping, or flying away. One balloon formed perfectly, representing a dream becoming reality. The campaign's radio commercials included "Doodle," "Big Grin," and "Oblonger."

"The Power of Dreams" also featured ASIMO, Honda's ever-evolving humanoid robot. Honda presented its first humanoid robot in 1986, under the name EO. By 2000 it had evolved into ASIMO, whose legs and arms moved like a human's. This was an incredible feat in the field of robotics. ASIMO first appeared in a TV spot in an earlier campaign in 2002. That year, when "The Power of Dreams" took over as the new tagline, the robot became even more omnipresent, both in Honda ads and in other contexts. ASIMO hosted many Honda promotional events; the robot rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange's 25th anniversary in 2002 and shook hands with the Belgian prime minister in 2005. Such public appearances contributed to the widespread recognition and success of the ASIMO global branding ads in "The Power of Dreams" campaign. In 2005 Honda released "Run," a global corporate TV spot featuring ASIMO. The commercial gained international renown for its clever portrayal of a "race" in an airport between the robot and an elderly Japanese businessman. The global campaign also released two variations of posters titled "ASIMO and a Boy," set in the same airport, substituting the businessman with a young boy. In the U.K. version of the campaign, however, ASIMO played a more minor role.


"The Power of Dreams" was widely recognized within the industry, receiving IPA Advertising Effectiveness awards; AD&D awards for Radio Advertising; British Television Advertising awards; and Advertising Creative Circle awards. The television spot "Sense," portraying a collection of daily situations in which power sources "sensed" when they needed to turn on or shut down (to promote Honda's Integrated Motor Assist Engine), gained 13 awards and recognitions. "Cog" brought in 37, including the highly prestigious Gold Lion (Cars category) at the International Advertising Festival in Cannes, France, in 2003. In addition to advertising awards, "Cog" (also known as the "Rube Goldberg ad," after the legendary American cartoonist and sculptor) brought Honda the status of creating an advertising phenomenon. Like Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" campaign of the 1980s, "Cog" was regarded as advertising legend, becoming one of the most talked-about television commercials in advertising history.

The "Power of Dreams" also met with monetary success. From the start of the campaign through 2005, Honda's unit auto sales worldwide increased from 2.6 million units to 3.2 million units per year. In the United Kingdom sales improved by 28 percent. Later in the campaign, from 2004 through 2005, unit sales of Hondas in Asia increased by 50 percent. Other positive results were more subtle: Honda recognition increased, including acknowledgement of its advertising as being "cool." Media coverage was intensive, and free media value was generated (for instance, CNN ran two features on the campaign, and the Discovery Channel ran a documentary on it). Showroom visits rose, and even sales of used Hondas increased. Internally, there were also benefits. In the United Kingdom, Honda was included in the Sunday Times newspaper's "Best Companies to Work for" list for the first time ever in 2003; it was number 18. By 2004 the company had moved up to number 16. Staff turnover was low, and 89 percent of workers said that they were proud to work for Honda. The goal of reaching 100,000 annual unit sales in the United Kingdom by 2005 was reached.


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                                     Candice L. Mancini