After successfully launching the three-door HR-V 'Joy Machine' in
1999, Honda decided to introduce a five-door model for the European
Dow Carter and The Leith Agency worked closely with the client to
develop a viral campaign that would create awareness across Europe among
Unlike the conventional approach to advertising, in which media costs
amount to the lion's share of spend, the entire advertising budget was
devoted to production. Leith shot 10 different 'commercials' that were
then compressed into MPEG files. Each short, amusing commercial sought
to capture a sense of 'energy and fun' in keeping with the car's
A dog, for example, sniffing at the car gets sprayed as the vehicle
cocks one of its wheels; and a man attempting to inflate a tyre with a
foot-pump succeeds only in blowing himself up.
Testing the waters
The first of the commercials, 'Wash', was e-mailed out to about 500
people within the target age-range who were personal contacts of
employees at Honda, Leith and Dow Carter. No mailing lists were used.
The aim was to start small but create viral momentum.
In order to measure the effectiveness of the campaign a web site
(www.hondajoymachine.com) was developed by Dow Carter. The URL for this
was only published on the end-frame of the e-mailed commercials.
"We wanted to do something that was simple but fun," says Dow Carter
creative director Marie Storrar. "And as it was a pan-European campaign
we had to keep words and instructions to a minimum in English.
Consequently, we made the site quite intuitive."
The web site Dow Carter created for the three-door Joy Machine had used
Tamagotchi - the Japanese virtual pet toy - as a broad theme. Continuing
in this playful vein, the five-door site used the View Master toy in its
View Master, as most of us will recall from childhood, is a device for
seeing images in 3-D.
But with the 5-D (five-door) Honda, the implication was that this
product would enable drivers to see the world in an even fresher way.
Dow Carter made prominent use of the slogan 'Now in glorious 5D'.
About a third of the budget went on the web site, where content included
the 10 commercials made by Leith and an interactive 'movie generator'
game devised by Dow Carter that allowed visitors to pick the elements
they wanted - location and characters and genre - to create a short,
animated movie from a set of options. After typing in their own
dialogue, they could e-mail the finished product to friends.
"Tens of thousands of people used the movie generator," says Storrar.
"That turned out to be popular because you are getting people to create
The virus takes off
More prosaically, but vitally, the site also contains images of the
vehicle and technical specifications for those attracted to the site
that have a genuine desire to learn more about the car.
By the end of the first week of the campaign, page views had reached
11,000 a day. As the viral campaign really took off, this almost doubled
to 21,000 page views a day. This equated to around 3,500 user sessions
per day. Analysis showed that traffic increased towards the end of the
week, dropping off at weekends, and creating a saw-tooth pattern of
peaks and troughs.
Average time spent on the site per session was six minutes, a figure
that remained fairly constant throughout the campaign.
Visitors spent more time on the technical details page than on any other
part of the site, showing that genuine interest had been created.
Qualitative analysis of server statistics found that viewers originated
from multinationals such as Arthur Andersen, Hewlett Packard and JP
Morgan as well as more obscure organisations like Robins USAF Base and
the Latvian Department of Justice.
Although intended as a European campaign, the viral message is known to
have spread worldwide. Since launch last year, the site has had over
750,000 user sessions - including a full length article in the Sydney
The total number of people to have seen the viral e-mails is impossible
to quantify, but Dow Carter thinks it could be as high as 25
"Compared to anything we are doing with conventional above-the-line
media, the return on investment has been enormous," says Honda's
communications manager Chris Brown.
"We firmly believe this is a different kind of dialogue and that we can
have far greater impact on people (who visit the site) because we have
their full attention," he pointed out.
Campaign: HR-V Joy Machine Five-Door
Agency: Dow Carter, The Leith Agency
Client: Honda Motor Europe
Objective: To build awareness of the car amongst 25-35 year olds across