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Honda’s Nicest People & Mad Men

Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Mad Men
AMC's hit show, Mad Men, featured Honda in its latest episode "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword".
In the early ‘60s Honda was looking to improve its market share in the U.S. Selling 40,000 motorcycles a year, American Honda’s General Manager Kihachiro Kawashima set a far more ambitious goal of 200,000 annual sales. To hock its bikes on the American consumer, Honda turned to the advertising heavies at New York’s Madison Avenue. The result was the longest-running and most well-known ad campaign in US motorcycle history. Honda is now returning to those glamorous ‘60s-era Madison Avenue digs on the small screen thanks to the hit AMC show Mad Men.

The character-driven period piece, now in its fourth season, has reached the height of popularity dramatizing the hard-drinking, brand builders in advertising. Part of the appeal of Mad Men is how it melds history and fiction, with the show featuring some of the monumental brands that endure today. For example, Lucky Strike is the fictional firm’s biggest client, and brands like Clearasil, John Deere and Hilton have also been instrumental in plot lines. After its latest episode, dubbed "The Chrysanthemum and the Sword", Honda has been added to the list as well.

In 1959 American Honda established itself in the U.S. selling motorcycles out of a small storefront in Los Angeles  Calif. Honda has steadily expanded its U.S. presence to encompass a broad range of products and operations. Today  Honda employs more than 27 000 U.S. associates engaged in the design  development  manufacturing  sale and servicing of Honda and Acura products including automobiles  motorcycles  ATVs  personal water craft  power equipment  and an advanced light jet.
From its humble beginnings in a small storefront in Los Angeles, American Honda began introducing the company's motorcycles to the US populace.
Holding up the You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda. poster are Kihachiro Kawashima  then general manager of American Honda   left  and Takeo Fujisawa  then senior managing director of Honda Motor   second from right.
Kihachiro Kawashima, then General Manager of American Honda (left), and Takeo Fujisawa, then Senior Managing Director of Honda Motor (second from right) pose in front of You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda advertising poster.
The interesting thing is that many of the brands, like Heineken and Cadillac, have reportedly paid for their product placement into Man Men’s story lines. It’s a savvy way for brands to generate exposure on television – particularly when many viewers now fast-forward through commercials via DVR. It’s a deft marketing concept that could have come straight off the liquor-stained cocktail napkin of the show’s protagonist, ad man Don Draper.

But not all the brands mentioned in the show are buying their way in. Some are used without approval. American Honda media relations and its advertising agency reps have confirmed they were unaware of the exposure on the show prior to its airing. Turns out they were as surprised as us to find Big Red in the creative sites of AMC.

The Honda episode plot centers on the Japanese manufacturer’s bid for a large three-million dollar advertising account. Draper and his firm, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, are courting the Japanese marque along with a host of rival firms. The main source of conflict in the episode comes when one of the other partners offends the Honda representatives. The man, a naval veteran of the Second World War, objects to doing business with a Japanese company and uses derogatory language (certainly the language would have been sanitized if Honda was an official product placement).

Mad Men uses Honda, in this first episode, as a foil to discuss the nuances in business customs between West and East. Of course, the anti-hero Draper saves the day by undermining his firm’s main rival by Machiavellian deception, convincing them to break the rules of the bidding process by going over budget and creating a television commercial. He then gains favor with the fictional Honda reps by resigning from the competition after complaining that the other firm did not honor the terms.

It seems certain the Honda plotline will continue to simmer as a recurring theme throughout the season. If so, it stands to reason that the Mad Men writers will mine the existing advertising history of Honda Motorcycles in America – including the firm’s wildly successful “Nicest People” campaign.

Honda entered the U.S. market in 1959 with the step through Honda 50 motorcycle and helped spur the dramatic growth of the U.S. motorcycle market  as it became the best-selling brand in America. The companys memorable advertising campaign  You meet the nicest people on a Honda  changed Americans perception of two-wheel transportation.
Says Honda PR of its popular campaign: "The company's memorable advertising campaign, 'You meet the nicest people on a Honda,' changed American's perception of two-wheel transportation."
That famous collaboration with Honda and Madison Avenue came when the real-world ad firm Grey Advertising came up with the slogan “You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda.” Depicting non-traditional riders like housewives and students making practical use of the company’s small-displacement motorbikes, already brisk sales boomed.

Grey Advertising followed up its original success with another bold gambit, having American Honda sponsor the Academy Awards. The planned two 90-second commercials during the Award show would reach an expected 70-80% of television viewers (unheard of saturation considering today’s fragmented television audience), but they would also cost $300,000. Considering the Honda 50 retailed for $245, it was staggering sum and risky investment.

“When I heard they wanted $300,000, I had serious reason to pause and think about it," said Kawashima in Honda media information. "But [Takeo] Fujisawa (right-hand man to company founder Soichiro Honda) had always told me that great opportunities weren't so easy to come by. So, I decided to go for it. ‘Let's do it,' I said. But to be honest, I was pretty nervous."

The gamble paid off with the ads and sponsorship generating unprecedented exposure for a motorcycle company. The Nicest People campaign would go on to run for years, earning its place as the most celebrated ad campaign in the industry, with the slogan still resonating to this day.

Honda’s free exposure vis-à-vis Mad Men is a drop in the bucket compared the original favor from those real-life Mad Men. Yet even the largest motorcycle manufacturer in the world doesn’t figure to decry air time on one of the hottest shows on TV – particularly in the current era of barebones budgets. Of course, Hollywood can and will take plenty of liberties with its ad history revision, and it should be noted that not all its subjects are portrayed in a favorable light.

But if we’re betting, expect Don Draper to come through for Honda too. Glass of rye and ubiquitous cigarette in hand, at the moment of crisis he’ll flash an “of course” look before muttering “The nicest people ride a Honda…”
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Tubby -Real Honda commercial?  September 7, 2010 12:41 PM
This is driving me nuts! Draper's competitor talked about his Honda commercial idea. I Honda racing through the subway and then down 5th Ave. The bike stops. The rider takes off the helmet and it's a blonde. That commercial existed. I distinctly remember it but I don't know if it was for Honda or another manufacturer. Anyone else remember it?
Honduh -.  August 27, 2010 04:08 PM
Rotten Randy - you also August 26, 2010 11:38 AM
meet the most methed out drunk and fat pirates with Indian corn teeth on a Hardley....SKULLS....!!!!

Mike -Honda has lost me  August 27, 2010 02:22 PM
My first bike 37 years ago was a Honda, followed by many more. My first new car was a Honda followed by more. While I still admire their engineering prowess I don't see a bike in their U.S. stable for me - just lackluster cruisers, crouched over sportbikes, and Gold Wings. Honda has nothing for people who appreciate agile, capable bikes that can commute or tour the country in comfort on various roads, so now I ride a Suzuki V-Strom.
Maicomanron -Retired And have seen ever Mad Man show. I love it. Its the real life.  August 27, 2010 11:00 AM
We saw the handwriting on the wall. I was service manager for Honda Triumph of Torrance Califorina. Late 60s thru the 70's. I rode converted street TR6c in desert races,enduros, flat track at Ascot park.

We started with selling Honda cubs and ever year more and more advanced. 1969 We recieved the 4 cylinder 750,it was over for the triumphs. If we let a customer ride a 750 Bonnevile then the Honda,never looked at a Triumph again.

Russ Collins immediatley took one 750 engine apart in the shop and found out that a Honda CB 350 Twin had the same wrist pin diameter and if we trimmed off the bottom skirt the pistons could be used in the 750cc. Bore out to 836c. The rest is history.

If you watched the Man Men you also heard them smack the Little Honda car with a motorcycle engine. They were the 600. Aircooled twin front wheel drive.

Honda had recieved a boat load to the Long Beach California harbor and needed to get Federal noise and brake standards approved to sell. They choose us.

We took 4 of the cars to the Forum Parking lot and did braking and sound test.

They failed the braking test big time. The cars came with very small rims and tires. Being the rims were so small there was not room for bigger brakes to fit inside of the wheels. In those days the max speed limit in Japan was about 55mph. Brakes Ok for that speed but we had some 75MPH freeways in the USA.

Honda had unloaded all the 300 cars to a lot in Long Beach and sent the ship back for a nother load. American Honda reps made the decision to take out the batterys and drain the gas tanks. Transport all the cars to San Pedro junk recycler. He put 4 cars in each crusher and they came out in a 3 foot cube. We tryed in vain to buy one for coffee table in cust show room. But they had mso's and honda just took them back as scrap.

The next batch came with 12" tires and they passed. But they did not change the transaxle ratio from the 8" tires to the 12". So it was so slow that nowbody wanted one.

If you watched last years MAd Men, DoN Draper went on a trip to Los Angeles and went to a BOB"S Big BOy hangout and yakked with the guys there with the HOT RODs they explained to him, The fenderless 34's model "a" etc. He asked whats a hot rod??

The show is really a turn back in time if your old and a Old Bike Rider/Hot rod guy that lived there in those days.

I raced Saddleback Park (1967) there when Edison Dye brought over the Europeans,Decoster,Robert,Weil on the 2 strokes. Me on a Rickman 500cc Triumph. First up the hill to the left turn downhill offcamber,no hope after that. But we paid them all back at Hopetown. More like TT track,no powersliding a CZ,Maico< Husky.

Next weekend we all went to Bean Canyon(Mojave Desert Backus Road) and rode with a then 13year old that showed us how to climb and ride the walled sand wash from the loop down hill. Bob Hanna. He was pretty fast on his uncles 800cc triumph desert sled. Decoster said theres the future champ right there.
Rotten Randy -you also  August 26, 2010 11:38 AM
meet the most methed out drunk and fat pirates with Indian corn teeth on a Hardley....SKULLS....!!!!
Freaksize -2 cents worth  August 26, 2010 07:21 AM
Hondas are for those who appreciate value and performance
Max Biaggi --  August 25, 2010 04:41 PM
You beat the fastest BMWs on an Aprilia
unclewill -.  August 25, 2010 03:16 PM
You meet the oldest people on a Goldwing
Rob -As I find my way through life (40 yrs of it so far)  August 25, 2010 12:08 PM
I find my garage filling with more and more Honda's. Their engineers seem to be plugged directly into my head. Keep up the good work Honda!
Tim B -4th Photo  August 25, 2010 10:24 AM
Can you imagine the public outrage and backlash Honda would face these days if they showed *gasp* a man and a woman on a motorcycle without a helmet in an ad? Oh how I wish for the good old days where people weren't uptight and they minded their own business.
unclewill -and...  August 25, 2010 08:50 AM
You meet the drunkest people on a Harley