Acura’s new slogan is that life should be equal parts responsibility and fun. That’s why the ILX needs to be a good clean sedan during the day and an enjoyable but responsible non-drunk drive during the night.
To better get the message across, two commercials were released. Called ‘Airport’ and ‘Office’, these are filmed in identical split screens where the Acura driver goes through equal parts of fun and responsibility.
The main focus of the car is placed on the luxury on offer, on the standard push-button start feature and exciting design. The ILX is also featured with a manual gearbox, even though very few people go for that option, and that’s because Acura wanted to convey the sporty attitude of the car.
The new catchphrase in the luxury auto category is "gateway vehicle." It's all about having a car that can bring Gens X and Y into the luxury market at a level they can handle. BMW has one with the 1-Series; Lexus has the CS 200h; Mercedes will introduce the A-Class; Cadillac will have the ATX vehicle that comes in below the CTS and Infiniti is bringing its own entrant to market.
Acura's offering is the ILX, which starts at $25,900. The Torrance, Calif., luxury sibling of Honda is launching the vehicle with a new campaign from its U.S. agency of record, rp&. The campaign, which is also its biggest digital effort to date, uses music from The Ting Tings and Nick Waterhouse.
Susie Rossick, manager of Acura advertising, tells Marketing Daily that the digital buy will hone in on sites popular with 25-to-34 year olds. "We have upped our percentage of digital spend higher than we have ever done for Acura, because this group spends much more time online than Baby Boomers," she says. "So we're doing things on Pitchfork, Bleacher Report, and Mashable, for example. We are doing homepage takeovers on MSN and Yahoo." The automaker is advertising on Xbox Live, Pandora and Good, and showing creative on YouTube, as well.
The 2 TV and in-theater ads use a split-screen motif to show upwardly mobile Gen Y people building their careers and social lives simultaneously. On 1 side, you see them in airports, and corporate offices. On the other, they're at upscale resorts and nightclubs. In each ad, the character ends the journey in the driver’s seat of an ILX. “Life should be equal parts responsibility and fun,” says the voice-over. “Introducing the new Acura ILX. Move up. Without settling down.”
The spots make their TV debut with a national presence during the NBA conference finals on ESPN June 5, as well as the NBA finals on ABC on June 15 and 17. Cable TV includes networks such as G4, Spike TV, AMC and the E! channel. Rossick says they will also be in summer blockbusters.
Rossick says Acura is also partnering with a popular indie band that has a new album coming out this month (mum on the band’s name because the legal ink is still drying). Acura will be sponsoring their tour and will have vehicles on display at concerts. "This is the 1st time Acura has ever sponsored a tour. But it's a perfect time for us to reintroduce ourselves to a younger audience, and this is really our sweet spot," says Rossick. "It's where we do really well; and we are viewed [by Gens X and Y]as an aspirational brand."
Also on deck is a series of weekend experiential events in 5 cities. The program, aligned with Autoweek, will visit Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago, and includes a ride-and-drive component. The automaker expects about 200 attendees expected per day at the events. Rossick says both the Autoweek program and the band sponsorship will have large social media components.
Facebook will be a small part of the digital buy, for the ILX campaign. Acura will put such content on its Facebook page as an app in development that will allow people to place themselves in the car using their webcam.
Automakers are spending a lot of time these days wringing their hands about whether economically beleaguered and automotively disinterested twenty-somethings will ever be willing — or able — to buy enough cars from them. So Acura has decided to bypass the angst and appeal mainly to the part of Generation Y that still has some financial wherewithal: consumers in their early 30s.
They’re the target for the brand’s new sedan, ILX. At prices beginning at $25,900 Acura is calling the compact ILX a “gateway” to the luxury segment for those who want and can afford to get on that track.
The ILX launch is important for Acura because the brand is still trying to recover its bearings after last year’s earthquake and tsunami in Japan crushed the sales momentum it had begun to build in the U.S. market. And, according to Acura brand executives, they’re still trying to capture a measure of respect.
“Even with restricted inventories, we still sold more cars last year than Lincoln and Cadillac and Volvo and Audi,”Mike Accavitti, Acura’s U.S. CMO, told me. “Audi gets all these accolades but we sell more cars than them. We’re 4th [in U.S. luxury sales volumes] this year even before high volumes of our 2 new products, ILX and [a new version of the RDX utility vehicle], have gotten onto dealer lots.”
Indeed, sales of the Honda premium brand are up by 11% for this year through May. But the comparison is against a weak year-earlier period. And Acura has some work to do to secure a wider long-term berth in the entry end of the U.S. luxury market.
“The brand has been struggling with what it is over the last half-dozen years,” said Doug Scott, senior vice president of GfK Automotive, a brand-consulting firm in Southfield, Mich. “The problem is that competitors like BMW and Audi, who already are younger and aspirational, are moving more into the more affordable area of the marketplace.”
It looks like they’ll have to fight Acura for some of those buyers: unmarried consumers who’ve achieved some stability financially. The new TV-advertising campaign for the car depicts an ILX owner with his life proceeding separately on 2 tracks, which literally are occurring in parallel on a split screen in the ads. In 1 spot, a track shows him in a corporate office, the other at play at hip nightclubs, and they meet when he gets into his ILX.
“Life should be equal parts responsibility and fun,” goes the tagline in both spots. “Move up, without settling down.”
“Our target is older Gen Y and young Gen X-ers, so we wanted to get them doing both things,” said Susie Rossick, Acura brand manager.
Accavitti explained that ILX “was specifically designed for these people because of what they’ve gone through,” Accavitti said. Growing up, “they’ve seen and experienced and touched luxury and wealth. So their expectations are there — but the realities of today’s post-recessionary economy are that this generation may be the 1st that actually ends up earning less than the previous 1.”
While that message seems less inspirational or even aspirational than sobering, Accavitti said Acura is positioning the car as “a special vehicle, with the feeling associated with that kind of car, but it doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg to get into it. It’s designed for our target at this economic [time]. It’s smart luxury.”
For example, ILX has a voice-to-text system built into its infotainment capabilities that includes the capability for issuing pre-programmed responses — such as, Accavitti quipped, “Hey, I’m driving right now!” Pandora internet-based radio is another part of the car’s appeal. Other features include a standard 5-inch color display screen and an optional multi-view rear-camera system.
And as with anything explicitly aimed at Millennials, digital marketing and music are huge parts of the ILX push. Its TV and in-theater ads feature notable tunes from The Ting Tings and Nick Waterhouse. Acura is supporting the launch with its largest-ever budget allocation to interactive media, with placement scheduled on sites such as Xbox LIVE, Pandora and the (in-transition) web site that is Good.
The brand also is sponsoring a summer tour by an indie band — whose identity it won’t disclose just yet — that will span 5 U.S. cities and give lots of love to the ILX, including having the model on display at concert venues and the ILX participating in music videos. Acura also plans ride-and-drive weekend events this summer in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Chicago, with about 200 people expected to attend each day.
Will response to ILX be music to Acura’s ears? Accavitti is confident that ILX will help the brand get fully back on track; meanwhile, sales of MDX, its highest-volume vehicle, are about flat with a year ago, but the new version of the RDX, launched a couple of months ago, is 36% ahead of 2011 sales.
“We were on a roll prior to the natural disaster” last year in Japan as well as flooding in Thailand last fall that further complicated Acura’s supply lines. “We had 13 months of double-digit [year-over-year] sales increases. But once the inventory was so impacted, it was difficult to [sell] at that level.”
And, as Scott noted, Acura’s sibling brand, Honda, has been facing its own difficulties ushered in by the 2011 disaster as well as the shortcomings of its product lineup. “So at a time you’d hope the [Honda] company could focus on Acura and really get it right, the entire organization is having branding issues,” Scott said.
Still, Accavitti said that Acura has always appealed to a younger cohort, on average, than Toyota’s Lexus and Nissan’s Infiniti brands and noted that now the brand is focusing on amplifying that heritage advantage.
“Younger people are more open to the Acura brand,” he said. “They always have been. They value and respect our foundational values of quality and durability and that, as an investment, our cars hold greater value than our competitors’.”
Rossick agreed yet believes Acura can obtain a 2nd look from many of its target buyers. “We’re new and fresh and who these people are looking for,” she said. “We’re confident that we’re talking to this target.”
I agree. I was surprised to find that today's youngsters are not as much into driving as previous generations. I suppose Acura will have to convince young ones that a car is worth purchase in he first place in addition to convincing those same youngsters that an Acura is worth their first move-up car purchase.
I can't believe I called young people "youngsters". Gawd I feel old.
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