Honda's New Insight Ad Doesn't Make Sense

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
hondas new insight ad doesnt make sense

Honda has launched a new media campaign for the Insight, a model that stages its third reappearance for the 2019 model year. The media push frames other hybrids as ugly, boring vehicles you have to settle for in order to gain superior fuel economy. There’s a social media initiative that transforms everyday objects into something more interesting and a television spot where other vehicles mill around while covered in bubble letters that spell out “blah” or “meh,” with horns and engine noises to match.

But the whole ad seems counterintuitive. The Insight ditched its funky wheel coverings after the first generation, which was followed by the loss of the glass-back hatch. Now it’s a pretty normal looking vehicle. You might even mistake it for a miniature Honda Accord.

That’s not an insult; the Accord isn’t a bad looking vehicle, but it also blends in easily with traffic. A large part of that is due to its popularity, but it still calls into question the whole premise of the ad — which serves to portray other hybrids as mundane.

The entire point of redesigning the Insight was to produce a more normal-looking vehicle. Meanwhile, Toyota’s Prius has only grown stranger as the years progress — to its detriment.

During a drive event for the Hyundai Ioniq, I had an opportunity to swap between that model and the (plug-in) Prius Prime, and Toyota’s bizarre styling choices were never more apparent. When you hop into the Prius, you instantly notice all the quirks (and might even appreciate them). But when you’ve just spent three hours in one of its comparatively normal rivals, all of those fun little touches start to seem a little odd. It’s almost overwhelming and, while you probably won’t mind after living with those eccentricities for a while, it might be enough to scare some people away at the dealership.

The Prius family remains the established hybrid choice, even those the Honda Insight technically debuted first, and is a serviceable choice for hyper-mile enthusiasts. But Toyota’s once robust hybrid sales dwindled as gas grew cheaper and the Prius’ styling became more edgy.

However, Honda can’t make an ad that says, “We’ve split the difference between polarizing and dull!”

While we would praise the company for its openness and honesty, “Fight Mediocrity” is the catchier slogan. People want to hear that a car is special, exiting, and better than its rivals.

In this way, the ad makes sense, though the automaker claims it’s not trying to obliterate Prius sales. “[Honda] isn’t really to overtake the Prius. Prius has a lot of brand equity,” Susie Rossick, assistant vice president of Honda’s marketing team, explained to Automotive News. Instead, the Insight is supposed lure buyers that are seeking “a really great looking sedan that just happens to be a hybrid.”

The consumer base for such a vehicle might be slim. Sedan sales aren’t exactly on the upswing and the same can be said for hybrid vehicles in general. If there is another spike in gas prices, maybe that will change. But the market is currently heading away from this sort of vehicle. Perhaps Honda should have made the “blah” vehicles in its ad look dirtier, with a little more ground clearance, because it’s pickup trucks and crossovers that the Insight has to worry about most.

All told, it’s not a bad ad. It’s memorable, simple to understand, and preys upon your insecurities. These are all effective marketing tactics. It doesn’t hurt that the Insight isn’t a dud, either. But the whole thing doesn’t make sense when it’s probably one of the most normal hybrids currently available.

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3 of 24 comments
  • Spookiness Spookiness on Jul 24, 2018

    Style-wise, this strikes a happy medium (for me) between the Civic and Accord. If it just was a liftback instead of a notchback I'd be into it, hybrid or no,

    • R Henry R Henry on Jul 24, 2018

      Funny thing is that this car uses the Civic body shell---but with different front and rear fascias. I consider this car to be much more visually coherent than Civic. This car is what Civic should have been as the volume leader, and this hybrid car should have the quirky existing Civic nose and tail.

  • TW5 TW5 on Jul 24, 2018

    Yeah, this ad campaign is bogus, and it's appears to be the work of people who are not ready to admit the hybrid game has changed. In the old days, marketing research said the only people willing to buy hybrids were the first-adopter types who wanted a vehicle the signaled eco virtue and savoir faire. CAFE 2025 has changed all of that because hybrids will be forced on everyone. That means the average Camcord Civorolla buyer needs a beige vehicle they can believe in, yet Honda is marketing the Insight as a standout vehicle. This ad only makes sense on one condition. The Insight is basically just a Civic Hybrid, but Honda didn't want to call it the Civic Hybrid, which indicates (to me) that Honda have a Civic Hybrid in the works. Since the Civic is an affordable compact family car, the hybrid system on the new Civic Hybrid will probably be a simple mild hybrid system. Therefore, Honda must differentiate the Insight from the Civic Hybrid by making the Insight noteworthy. Since the Civic Hybrid does not exist, and has not been announced to my knowledge, and since Honda doesn't want to paint their own products in a negative light, Honda marketing is taking pot shots at Prius. Still, the entire mess doesn't make much sense.

  • Dukeisduke I tried watching the live reveal last night, but after 15 minutes of jawing by MT+ personalities (and yes, I like Chris Jacobs and Alex Taylor), I turned it off.
  • Paul MBAs gonna MBA.
  • Zipper69 Clearly beyond German thought processes to simply keep A for IC engine and use "E" for all other so you can have a A6 and a E6.
  • Ianw33 It makes me laugh how many complaints i see here in the comments section. Leave it to "car enthusiasts" to be unhappy with the fact that a mainstream auto manufacturer produced a 1K HP car with a warranty that isn't $250K+. can't we just be happy that something crazy/fun exists like this before its gone, even if its not your cup of tea?
  • YellowDuck This is a completely vulgar vehicle. I understand that that is the point, but still...pretty douchey.