Honda counting on sheep to stir interest in Ridgeline

Honda viewed the Super Bowl as a crucial chance to reintroduce the second-generation Ridgeline to the public.

LOS ANGELES — Viewers of this year’s Super Bowl can look forward to Cam Newton dabbing, Peyton Manning’s swan song and a flock of sheep singing Queen.

The last one will be courtesy of Honda.

The automaker debuted the Super Bowl ad for its 2017 Ridgeline truck today, nearly two weeks before it will play in front of an audience expected to top 100 million people nationwide.

The 60-second spot features a graying guy hauling sheep in his Ridgeline to a grassy field, aided by a sheepdog. While he does, the man and his woolen companions listen to Queen’s 1976 hit “Somebody to Love” through the Ridgeline’s in-bed speakers. When the man leaves, the sheep pick up where Freddie Mercury left off.

Honda viewed the Super Bowl as a crucial chance to reintroduce the second-generation Ridgeline to the public. The truck is set to go on sale in late spring.

“We look at the Super Bowl opportunity as a way to really … get it back on people’s shopping lists and really get word out in the market that Ridgeline’s back,” said Tom Peyton, assistant of marketing and advertising for Honda.

The Super Bowl ad will kick off a three-pronged campaign for the Ridgeline that will stretch across TV, print, social media and events for at least the duration of 2016, Jeff Conrad, general manager of the Honda division, told Automotive News at the Ridgeline’s debut during the 2016 Detroit Auto Show.

“We know our job is to create awareness [of the Ridgeline] and we’re doing a bigger job of that upfront than we’ve ever done before,” Conrad said.

Honda is also hoping this new generation of the Ridgeline truck steers around the shortcomings of the first-gen model. That version, on sale from 2005 through 2014, started off with strong sales, but quickly fell victim to its off-beat styling, the recession and high gas prices.

Middle aged

Astute viewers will notice the man shepherding the crooning sheep is middle-aged. Honda is aiming the Ridgeline at men in their 40s and 50s with an active lifestyle who use the truck on a daily basis.

“Some market their trucks as a youth alternative,” Peyton said. “We are not looking for that particular 20-something driver in this truck. The guys who have got the money to afford this truck, who want this kind of functionality who want it as an everyday driver are exactly what you’re seeing here and what you’ll see in the coming weeks.

Keeping the spot lighthearted was another goal of Honda’s ad agency, RPA, which created the spot.

“At the end of the day, [the Super Bowl] is the one property where people are tuning in arguably to watch the commercials as much as they are the game and part of that is because of the promise of ‘I’m going to be entertained,’” Peyton said. “I think this checks all the boxes for an effective Super Bowl ad.”

In-bed speakers

The automaker also wanted to use the opportunity to highlight its available in-bed speaker system, a feature not available on any other truck, and one that proved popular with consumers in market research.

The automaker last bought Super Bowl airtime in 2014 with an ad featuring actor Bruce Willis and comedian Fred Armisen. For 2016, the automaker joins its luxury counterpart Acura, which will have a 30-second ad of its own during the Super Bowl, along with competitors including Hyundai, Kia, Buick and Mini.

Honda declined to say what it paid CBS for the third-quarter, 60-second spot, but Advertising Age, an affiliate of Automotive News, reported in November that 30-second segments were selling in a range between $4.6 million and just over $5 million.

Honda said it will disclose pricing closer to the truck’s launch this spring.

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