Honda Seeks Super Bowl Love With Bruce Willis Safety ‘Hugfest’

Honda Motor Co., which ran big-budget Super Bowl ads starring Jerry Seinfeld and Matthew Broderick to generate buzz two years ago, made a surprise return to the game with a spare Bruce Willis spot touting Honda’s crash safety.

The “Hugfest” commercial has actor Willis asking Super Bowl viewers to hug family and friends that they’re watching the National Football League championship game with, as he does the same with comic actor Fred Armisen. Willis, standing before a white background, talks about Honda having more top safety rated vehicles than any other carmaker as Armisen smiles up at him.

“While we are in fact a leader in safety, the public doesn’t always recognize that,” Mike Accavitti, Tokyo-based Honda’s U.S. senior vice president, told reporters last week. The Willis commercial is to “communicate our leadership and begin to move the needle on that safety image,” he said.

Carmakers are spending as much as $6 million on production and airtime per 30-second spot to grab consumers and promote a bumper crop of new vehicles during the telecast, typically the most-watched TV event of the year in the U.S. The challenge: making their ad resonate with the more than 100 million viewers who will be chatting up their favorite spots online or at the water cooler the next day.

Honda’s goal with the ad, which the carmaker didn’t reveal to the public before it aired in the game’s third quarter, was to “zig, when everyone else was zagging,” Accavitti said.

‘Going Small’

“Super Bowl spots are now going over the top -- we’ve done that in the past and I’m not saying it’s good or bad,” he said. “Instead of going big, we’re going small.”

Unlike competing auto ads released prior to the game, Honda’s low-key commercial has no special effects or elaborate plot -- such as those used to promote Jaguar, the British luxury sports-car brand owned by Tata Motors Ltd., Kia Motors Corp.’s new K 900 luxury sedan or Volkswagen AG’s VW models.

Four Hondas -- the Accord sedan and coupe, Civic sedan and Odyssey minivan -- earned Top Safety Pick+ assessment, the highest such rating, from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Honda’s Acura RLX sedan and MDX sport-utility vehicle also received that designation, while three other Honda and Acura models also got Top Safety Pick ratings.

Crashworthiness and vehicle safety is a top consideration factor for people who buy Hondas, Accavitti said, citing data from Strategic Vision, a consumer researcher in San Diego.

Hugging is a reminder that people “are not crash-test dummies. They’re not engineering data,” Willis says in the commercial. Honda will continue to promote safety themes via Twitter, Facebook and other social-media websites, in the weeks following the game, Accavitti said.

Honda’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.

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