When Honda Motor Europe started to develop a marketing strategy for the HR-V sport-utility launched last year, it brought together a committee of experts from the UK, Germany, France and Italy, and held clinics in major European cities.
Honda wanted its HR-V advertising efforts to be closely targeted. Essentially, it was decided that the HR-V would take Honda into a younger market, winning customers that had not previously considered the brand.
The resulting 'Joy Machine' campaign was aimed at 25-35 year olds, regardless of country. This age group, according to Honda's market research, had more similarities than differences across Europe. No matter what the nationality, members of this age group had similar tastes, lifestyles and career concerns. They listened to the same music, enjoyed the same films and pursued the same recreational activities.
But a year later, Honda admits that its vision was too narrow and its targeting too restricted. The real-world buyer profile for the HR-V has surprised the marketing experts.
'The 'Joy Machine' campaign was pitched at relatively young people, but the HR-V is actually being bought by people of all ages,' said Phil Adams, account executive at the Leith Agency, which devised and produced the pan-European campaign in cooperation with Honda Motor Europe.
'The target audience which is defined for advertising purposes is not always the same as the actual end purchaser,' said Adams. 'What I mean by this is that you pitch the advertising at a certain type of person in the knowledge that the actual appeal will be much broader.'
Chris Brown, advertising executive at Honda Motor Europe, said: 'The discussion within advertising should be about attitudes, not ages. I have recently been reminded that (former British Prime Minister) John Major and Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones are the same age.'
But if the conclusion is that targeting also implies exclusion, HR-V sales patterns support Adams' contention that it may not matter a great deal.
Customer profiles in the UK suggest that if the HR-V's youth-oriented and new-to-Honda campaign only partly hit the target, it scored significantly off-target as well.
HR-V customers have been, on average, seven years younger than Honda's other buyers. That's a gratifying result for Honda Motor Europe executives seeking a more youthful profile for the marque. But there has also been a significant and surprising proportion of mature HR-V purchasers.
While only 6 percent of all Honda customers in the UK are in the 17-34 age group, 20 percent of HR-V buyers are in this bracket.
While 13 percent of all Honda buyers are aged 35-44, the percentage of HR-V buyers is 24 percent.
But while 30 percent of all Honda buyers are over 65, so are 17 percent of HR-V buyers. No one expected one HR-V buyer in every six to be in the grandparent bracket!
In addition, women have emerged as a real buying force. Women account for 45 percent of all HR-V purchases against a 25 percent representation in total Honda sales.
And Honda's supposition that the HR-V would attract new customers to the brand has been only partly fulfilled, at least in UK, since 44 percent of HR-V buyers previously owned Honda Civics.
'That is an incredibly high figure,' said Honda (UK) public affairs manager Lawrence Pearce. 'Our conclusion is that there is a lot of brand loyalty among older Honda customers who owned Civics. But they have looked at the HR-V as an alternative to the traditional station wagon - at about the same price as a Civic.
'Of course, we don't know what these customers would have bought instead of the HR-V,' Pearce said, 'and we are happy that they stayed with Honda. But we think HR-V buyers must be a rather different breed.'