#GrinchTakeover for UNhappy Honda Days: Q&A With AVP Susie Rossick

Grinch Honda

‘Tis the season of advertising clutter, and Honda has come up with yet another new way to try to break through the holiday-marketing deluge to accomplish its objectives.

Honda enlisted the green star of the new movie Dr. Seuss’s The Grinch to launch its annual Happy Honda Days campaign in disruptive style, with the (ultimately) lovable monster “stealing” the sales event in a TV ad that broke November 18 by “closing” Honda dealerships and not allowing Happy Honda Days to unfold. The Grinch also invaded Honda on social media by, for example, commandeering its Twitter account.

But similar to the turn of events in the books and the movies, a couple of days later, the Grinch relented and “returned” Happy Honda Days to its rightful place in the panorama of Christmas advertising. Much happiness ensued, as spiffy Honda vehicles, happy customers and salespeople—and even complimentary doughnuts and “surprisingly comfortable” chairs—once again populated Honda dealerships.

“It was intended to disrupt all the holiday clutter and drew attention to Happy Honda Days,” Susie Rossick, assistant vice president of Honda Automotive marketing, told brandchannel. 

Honda wasn’t alone in its impulses to leverage The Grinch. Wonderful Pistachios cracked open its own Grinch-themed holiday campaign, and other brands with Grinch ties included IHOP, Barnes & Noble, the NBA and ESPN, as well as the DNA-testing service 23andme.

Their campaigns broke in the wake of a widely lauded campaign by Universal Studios and Illumination to re-introduce the children’s book character, and star of previous movies, with its awareness efforts before the new movie opened in November.

Once The Grinch “restored” Happy Honda Days, the car brand got back to its base campaign  for the season, featuring the return of classic childhood toys in a meme that Honda began in 2014. The Six Million Dollar Man, Care Bears, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and other iconic toys inhabit Honda dealerships and highlight features of Honda vehicles in a slate of ads that will be running throughout the holiday season.

Honda, like the rest of the auto industry, is facing a mixed bag these days. The brand just notched a big victory by being named the clear winner in the 2019 Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards, as the Honda Civic got its fifth straight win in the compact car category, and Accord, CR-V, Pilot and Odyssey all led their segments for the fourth time.

Meanwhile, Honda is gearing up for the important launch of its all-new Passport mid-sized SUV in 2019, which it officially unveiled at this week’s Los Angeles Auto Show press preview.

But Honda is fighting headwinds in the US market, with brand sales down overall by 2.5 percent for the year through October, and sales of its sedans down by even more amid American consumers’ accelerating move toward SUVs and crossovers instead.

Grinch Honda

brandchannel talked with Rossick about The Grinch, Happy Honda Days and the overall marketing landscape for Honda these days.

Why tap The Grinch along with so many other brands?

Susie Rossick Honda

He’s so universal in his appeal. I think he really does touch everybody’s heart—that meanness he has. But then you always know the end of the story. So when we saw the Illumination campaign by Universal, it seemed like an extension of our broader Happy Honda Days campaign this year, with the classic toys. It all felt good. The Grinch disruption was a great complement.

Tell me more about your creative approach with The Grinch’s “takeover.”

The idea was to disrupt and stand out among all other holiday advertising. There are so many things we could do with him, such as stealing Happy Honda Days—stealing is what he’s good at, taking over our Twitter feed. And then to see his heart grow three sizes bigger over the next day and a half and ultimately restore Happy Honda Days by giving it back to us was a natural idea.

In the end, we still give away a brand new Honda Pilot to a deserving family on The Today Show  as the culmination. We were able to have a great integration with The Today Show, too.

How has Happy Honda Days evolved as the shopping season for automotive marketing has evolved?

Every year we’re looking for a campaign that will break through this clutter and get people to look up. In Honda’s advertising, you’ll never see us stand up and do “Sale! Sale! Sale!” We continue to enhance our brand and use the sales event to do that, and also let in-market customers know that it’s the best time to buy a Honda.

But is it tempting to get into more of a promotion-now mode, both in sales as well as advertising, given the softness in the car market these days?

We tend to be true to what Honda is. We have a very disciplined approach for how we incentivize our vehicle. We try to keep our residuals high, and one way to do that is not to put a lot of money on them.

What’s the strategy behind the introduction of the Honda Passport next year?

We’ll be positioning it as more of a rugged SUV. It has the ability to take you to your adventures in a bunch of challenging terrain, but not something that will go straight up a rock pile. It’s about giving you everything you need in that size SUV. It’s targeted to a typical double-income, no-kids demographic that is looking for something not as big as a Pilot but with more functionality than a CR-V.


Get more insights in our Q&A series.

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