Honda recently launched its Accord Crosstour, a car with an innovative design that combines the versatile characteristics of an SUV (like all wheel drive) with sexier features generally found in a premium sedan or sports car (like a 271 horsepower, V6 engine). But based on online consumer chatter, people aren’t sure how to describe the Crosstour, and lots are calling it a design failure. Honda’s response to those critics? “………..” (virtual silence)
Because of the volatile economy, Honda completed a “tame” launch. Honda ran an ad during the Super Bowl and is also running ads during the Olympics. You can also find Crosstour advertising on YouTube, in movie theaters and in a variety of magazines such as the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, Men’s Health, Time, Forbes and The Economist. But one place where they deviated from the usual was in the launch of a Facebook fan page in the beginning of the campaign during the summer of 2009, which proved to be the match that set off a firestorm. Consumers and fans on the page spoke out against the car’s design, and according to a Columbus Dispatch article, they used terms like “epic fail,” “pig of a car,” “hideous” and the “Crossturd.” The article goes on to describe a “Crosstour Haters” group that sprung up right on Honda’s page. Honda’s marketing team attributed the feedback to unflattering photography, so they added new pictures and posted a response. “We scanned comments and found several key concerns that we addressed in a note on Facebook,” said Christina Ra, public relations manager for Honda. Speaking about their target “empty nester” consumer, Ra insisted, “We knew buyers wanted something that provided utility for their active lifestyles and newfound time and disposable income.”
Although Honda’s Facebook response seems like a mild mannered way to address the issue, a quick review of their Facebook fan page now shows a divide between Crosstour lovers and haters, who are posting dueling comments, so it seems Crosstour brand ambassadors have stepped forward and entered the fray to defend the design. On Twitter, it appears that Honda is only tweeting back to positive comments (Example: “Congrats! Honda Love prevails”), lumping legitimate critiques in with outright negativity over the look and feel of the new car. While ignoring the negativity and denying engagement looked like a faux pas early in the launch, it seems the momentum of their campaign and positive reviews from consumers have begun to stem the tide. Although Honda admittedly was surprised by the negative onslaught that occurred in social media, could it be that a complete refusal to engage in negativity was actually the right strategy? For more on this hotly debated topic, check out a recent Ad Age column by Jack Neff.