5 Lessons Honda Learned About Reaching Millennials With Music

YouTube success will mean smaller TV spend

Marketers and agencies are always saying that content is king. But few clients have put money behind that maxim like American Honda Motor Co., which a year ago rolled out its "Honda Stage" music program as a way to reach a 20-something audience that increasingly tunes out traditional advertising.

The project was a big success, Tom Peyton, Honda's avp of advertising and marketing, told Adweek. But the automaker also learned some important lessons about what works and what doesn't. As Honda Stage gears up to roll out its second year of the effort—the Honda Civic Tour launches next month with a One Direction concert—Peyton is tweaking some plans.

First, the good news. Working with partners such as Live Nation and iHeartRadio, Honda brought more than 50 artists—from Snoop Dog and Pitbull to Ariana Grande and Demi Lovato—to perform more than 200 songs on the Honda Stage at the iHeartRadio Theater in Los Angeles. Those performances were made available on the Honda Stage website and YouTube channel, where the effort reached its goals of generating more than 2 billion impressions and 100 million views. It also generated 4.4 million social engagements and 1 million experiential impressions.

As a result, Honda will spend less money on TV during Upfront season.

"We got over 200 pieces of content generating over 100 million organic views," Peyton said. "So 100 million people watched that content—and they saw our 15-second TV ads in front of them. That really replaces the need I had to be on MTV or CW. More importantly, the people who saw those ads said, 'That's very cool.' That's more emotional. That builds consideration."

Here are Peyton's five lessons learned:

1. All content is not created equal. Videos of artists such as Ariana Grande and Sam Smith performing new songs generated huge traffic numbers (Grande's six songs from her new album attracted close to 40 million views on YouTube). But other artists were lucky to get thousands of views. Some drew crickets. Those disappointing numbers were a stark reminder to Peyton of just how risky the music business is. "Out of 200 pieces of content, I've got to tell you that 20 percent has fantastic views," he said. "And 80 percent has OK views, or no views. You have to have that much content in the music business to have successes."

2. YouTube is better than a branded site. Initially, Honda tried to drive eyeballs to its own HondaStage.com web site. But it found people were finding its content more through organic search, said Honda spokeswoman Robyn Eagles. So it quickly shifted all its content to the YouTube channel—and made it easier to find through Google and YouTube search. It's been the primary channel ever since.

3. Sponsor, don't produce. Honda spent big money producing its own deadmau5 concert last November in New York. But it flopped. Peyton swore he would only sponsor concerts already being produced in the future. "I don't want to be the production business," he said. "It's too much risk. Let somebody else do that."

4. VOD, not livestream. Honda tried live-streaming a few concerts — including the deadmau5. But results were mediocre. The automaker realized consumers were more interested in watching shorter, VOD clips at their own convenience, than sitting through two-hour long concerts on a specific time and date. So it will stick to VOD in the future.

5. Generate passion, not eyeballs. Honda used to target millennials by running TV ads on MTV's Jersey Shore or on Hulu. Those spots got viewed, but they prompted no emotional attachment. Fan of Honda Stage, on the other hand, "appreciate" the brand more for providing them with free content "they're passionately involved with," according research Peyton cited. And he's better able to measure results.

And, of course, information is power when it comes to justifying marketing spending to the big boss.

"Ultimately, all of this gives us an ability to have an attribution where I can tell my president, 'I spent a dollar in advertising here, I built this consideration and I sold this many cars,'" Petyton said. "Because the numbers are large enough to do this now. When I started having half a billion views, I have the metric tracks I can do that with."