Brand storytelling is becoming a two-way street, as new technologies add a layer of interactivity to consumers’ experiences of brands. From wearable technology to virtual reality, brands are creating experiences based on interaction – but making consumers participants in the narrative instead of passive observers carries risks as well as rewards.
"For us, the first primary focus is that it’s got to be about the level of engagement, and how we bring the consumer in without trying to force them in," says Martin Moll, marketing director for Honda Europe.
Honda’s latest effort, ‘The other side’, uses interactivity to highlight the differences between the conventional Honda Civic and the new, sportier Type R. As the short film unfolds, it shows a man taking his children to a fancy dress party in a standard Civic; press the R key and the action flips to a night-time scene, with the same man (in identically storyboarded shots) recast as an undercover cop posing as a getaway driver in the Type R.
"It was about creating a strong, warm feel, a change of attitude toward Honda, and then the product line-up," says Moll. "There was no sell-in; there was no other agenda, apart from us [saying] ‘This is us expressing our personality, and this is some interactive fun we want to have with you.’"
Honda’s marketing, he explains, starts with "brand truths" – and, crucially, how they relate to the consumer. "We are a global mobility player. We’re the world’s largest engine manufacturer. Both are very dry, both are very self-centred – and both are probably very uninteresting to the consumer, because they’re about ‘me, me, me’. So when we focus on the bigger messages, the starting point is we have to have human warmth, and we have to have that spirit of innovation, imagination and excitement."
Interactive content can help bring that "human warmth" to an otherwise dry brand narrative by making the viewer an active participant. Consumers that are becoming accustomed to interactivity expect a more dynamic relationship with the brand, explains Moll. Egocentricity and didactic messaging are out, and building a "two-way environment", in which consumers relate to the brand, is in.
"It can’t be ‘alpha male’ in its purest form; it can’t be this very dominant, ‘let us tell you how it is’ mentality. There are a lot of people that do that, and it’s a very cluttered marketplace for that type of sentiment. But for us, it doesn’t have any resonance to the consumer. It’s almost, ‘You have to buy us because if you don’t, you’re the odd one out.’ And I think there’s a danger that people buy you, despite you," he says. "It’s about how we convey a feeling about the brand in such a way that people feel they want to align themselves to it. And then the product sits behind that."
The Civic Type R campaign was a case in point; the new car wasn’t actually available during the shoot for ‘The other side’, so a CG rendering of it was inserted into the film in post-production.
"There has been a period where we probably haven’t been as strong in terms of brand messaging and we had a gap in product line-up," concedes Moll. "So it’s about the re-emergence of Honda."
Part of the goal for ‘The other side’, then, is to re-engage consumers with the brand using interactivity; Moll hopes the film will "change the pub conversation" around Honda.
The first primary focus is that it’s got to be about the level of engagement, and how we bring the consumer in without trying to force them in
"Our audience is much bigger than the actual buyers of the cars we’re hoping to sell to in the end," he says. "Most manufacturers will sell about 3% or 4% market share – and it’s a very congested market. So I know that the reality is that for an overall sales opportunity, there’s still 96% of people won’t buy. I believe you’ve got as big an opportunity with your non-buyers to create advocacy there that they will influence the 4% that are thinking of buying – they operate on a kind of peer-to-peer, community level."
Since the product on show isn’t yet available to buy, the success of ‘The other side’ can’t be judged using conventional metrics. Instead, the goal is to engage the audience with interactive content – meaning that different criteria are required.
"Clearly, if you were looking at it in a linear fashion, you’d ask: "Has the content you’ve put out there resulted in a direct relationship to sales?" says Moll. "This has no intention of doing that, because it doesn’t relate to a product that’s on market."
The measure of success, he notes, isn’t about viewers dashing off to a showroom immediately after watching ‘The other side’. "It’s not about it being a transition straight from seeing content to a visit,"
he says. "This is us seeing what the Net Promoter Score would be, seeing what the sentiments would be online or in social media, and seeing the level of not just the impressions, but also the click-throughs – those that then share it."
Interactivity, then, adds a new component to brand storytelling, creating a deeper level of connection with consumers and turning them into brand advocates. Crucially, ‘The other side’ also reflects Honda’s brand values of innovation, excitement and imagination, with a fast-paced narrative and a quirky interactive mechanic that cements the Civic Type R’s qualities in the mind of the viewer.
"It was about creating something that was unique and innovative," says Moll. "Making it so that it was interactive with the user, so there was a point whereby the user feels [like they receive] a reward for making the effort [to interact]. For us, its shareability and the likeability factor is much higher, and from our perspective that’s critical – otherwise you’re just telling [viewers] what you want them to know. What we want to do is engage them so that they feel a part of it."
When creating a shareable piece of content, brands must now consider the possibility that it will be shared outside its target market. In this new era of brand-consumer interaction, where audiences expect to enter a dialogue with content-producers, this can open up new opportunities for nimble brands. ‘The other side’ has attracted attention from around the world, says Moll; in the process, it has created demand for the Civic Type R in new markets.
Our remit is for Europe, but, of course, everything that goes online reaches a wider audience," says Moll. "We get a lot of contact from different markets through Asia, and also within Australia; we share assets so that they can see what we’re doing. The Civic Type R is made for Europe, in Europe; the car is not intended for the US."
On Twitter, though, it’s a different story. "It’s a real-time response where you get a true feel for whether the creative has achieved its goal, based on commentary back," says Moll.
"There’s a huge amount that’s come from North America, demanding that the car now gets sold Stateside. So it’ll be interesting to see whether that suddenly propels itself into a discussion with the factory and supply chain, and then the car goes to North America."