By on July 23, 2018

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.

[Images: Honda]

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24 Comments on “Honda’s New Insight Ad Doesn’t Make Sense...”

  • avatar

    Sedan? Haha, good luck with that.

  • avatar

    “Meh” is akin to “so-so” or “comme ci, comme ca”. The meh cars in this ad look suicidal. They should have a straight horizontal line for a mouth, not a frown.

  • avatar

    This is the same schtick Audi is using to sell their crossovers – portraying the Lexus (with it’s angry robot styling) and the boring beige crossover, then cutting to the style-less box they are selling.

    It’s exactly backwards of reality.

    • 0 avatar

      I think Audi’s campaign is less a commentary on styling than on standing apart from the crowd by avoiding the “safe,” “predictable,” “default options” that are RX and NX.

  • avatar
    FWD Donuts

    Honda’s advertising has been awful for years.

  • avatar
    Carroll Prescott

    What Honduh should have done is to admit this is the first NON-UGLY vehicle it has made in a dozen years and that we should be appreciative that it does not transmit rabies visually like the Civic, the HRV, CRV, SUV, BO, and whatever else it makes – egads that Honduh Impala is one ugly thing too – a huge honking blob of folds and creases that says it is an Accord.

    • 0 avatar
      Trucky McTruckface

      And what you should have done is avoid saying “Honduh.” That and “Toyoduh” are the “Drumpf” of automotive slurs. Most folks are going to stop reading and assume you’re a clown, regardless of the merit of whatever else you had to say.

      And I say that as someone who thinks that Honda’s styling (especially the stupid directional alloy wheels they seem love right now), option-packaging and general product-planning are chronically awful.

  • avatar

    I have this theory that if you make an attractive and distinctive product then you don’t have to tell anyone that you do.

    • 0 avatar

      Your theory is wrong.

      This ad is perfect. It makes the red colour availability stand out, and it makes 51mpg city stand out.

      Two takeaways from a single viewing on a smartphone? That’s two more than 99% of ads. Not to mention it’s success at drawing unsolicited commentary online.

    • 0 avatar

      Your theory is wrong.

      This ad is perfect. It makes the red colour availability stand out, and it makes 51mpg city stand out.

      Two takeaways from a single viewing on a smartphone? That’s two more than 99% of ads.

      Not to mention it’s success at drawing unsolicited commentary online.

  • avatar

    The beige cars are like a mix of the Prius (note the wheels) and a Nissan Figaro.

    Back of the new Insight puts me in mind of gen 1 Genesis sedan, but that’s really the only distinguishing feature to make it a bit less ugly than the Accord.

  • avatar

    So which of those words is the Insight wearing? Meh? Ugh? Blah? I’m thinking blah.

  • avatar

    They should have had the other cars dressed up as spaceships with gaudy, disproportionate styling, super futuristic for the sake of being futuristic. Make them look like rejected props from a 3rd rate sci-fi movie. Have large reader boards saying “I’M DRIVING A HYBRID, LOOK AT ME!” in their back windows.

    Then the announcer says something to the effect of “you don’t have to look weird and call attention to yourself just because you choose to drive a Hybrid that gets over 50 MPG… Introducing the new Insight, from Honda, the Hybrid that doesn’t have to look strange to return 52 MPG.”

    Take a shot right across the ugly Prius’ bow, get people thinking about a Hybrid who don’t necessarily want to announce… hell, SCREAM it to the world everywhere they go that they’re driving a Hybrid.

    • 0 avatar

      JohnTaurus: Agree completely, here. I have friends considering economical vehicles, who are turned off by the bizarre Prius-type styling; Honda needs to announce its presence in a hybrid market dominated by Toyota. Tesla didn’t simply “sell itself” in the absence of all publicity; there was tremendous news coverage for YEARS (even if not paid advertising),

  • avatar
    R Henry

    If Insight was actually good looking,the spot would have featured a few gleaming beauty shots. The ad didn’t, because Insight isn’t…!

  • avatar

    I see nothing wrong with this ad, weird car design never last long, see Nissan Juke, 1996 Ford Taurus, Pontiac Aztek and so on, every time I see a new Prius I wonder why?…..why would anybody drive such an ugly car?

  • avatar

    So they’re building the Accord, and Clarity, and the Insight now, all either hybrids or offered as a hybrid (Accord)? Their marketing department needs to get a clue.

  • avatar

    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,

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      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.

  • avatar

    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.

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