Civic Nation

Sustained Success (BRONZE)
Long Term Success (BRONZE)

Client Credits: Honda Canada
Dave Jamieson – Asst. Vice President, Sales and Marketing
James Marchand – Senior Manager, Honda Sales
Kate Lucek – Advertising Manager

Agency Credits: Grip Limited
Bob Shanks – Managing Partner, Business
David Crichton – Partner, Creative
Ben Steele – Associate Creative Director
Mike Koe – Associate Creative Director
Michelle Tafler – Group Account Director
Lisa Good – Director, Business
Greg Price – Manager, Business

Total 1692 Words


Business Results Period (Consecutive Months):January 2002 to current
Start of Advertising/Communication Effort: Late calendar year 2002
Base Period as a Benchmark: 1992 to early calendar year 2002

a) Overall Assessment

How does an auto manufacturer produce a car that stays number one in the most competitive category for 16 straight years?  How does it weather the literal storms such as the great Japanese tsunami of 2010 that throttle the import of parts and vehicles? Or combat the metaphorical storm that was the “great recession” that plummeted total auto sales by double-digit percentage points? This is the story of how the Honda Civic has maintained its dominant position in Canada through thick and thin.

The Civic success story is built on two pillars: resiliency and putting the consumer at the heart of everything we do. Resiliency in the sense that every new model year, competitors introduce products such as the Mazda3 or the “all-new” Elantra, looking to unseat the Civic as number one. Furthermore, year after year we see our competitors increasing their media spend to capture a larger share of voice in the market, in the hopes of claiming the designation of “#1 selling car in Canada”. To keep the new competitive product and media charge at bay, we ensured our strategic positioning and communications kept true to the DNA of Honda based on dependability, quality, and reliability (DQR), and didn’t react to the many variables that can alter the ultra-competitive, compact car landscape.

This focus, along with a philosophy of delivering communications that are empathetic to our consumers’ lives and values, lets the DNA of the Honda brand connect to Canadians coast to coast. It’s not about flag waving, but a human connection that allows the Honda Civic to weave itself into the cultural fabric of our nation and become a car that reflects the people who drive it.

b) Resulting Business Objectives

1 - Continue to lead the compact car category in overall sales (retail + fleet included).

2 - Develop communications that engage new consumers, but also celebrate current Honda Civic owners.

3 - Create memorable, talk value-centred work that allow us to overcome the larger paid media spends from competitors. 

c) Annual Media Budget

d) Geographic Area

a) Analysis and Insight

A key strategic pillar for us is to demonstrate how the Honda Civic can help our customers achieve the things they really care about – their values. A human value that is manifested in innovations and brought to life in communications. Engineering a car that is dependable, reliable and built on quality is one thing, but we create greater interest when connecting this with a keen focus on what’s important to the people behind the wheel. Positioning Civic as a car that fits the lives and values of Canadians is what is most important, and is what has put over 750,000 of them on Canadian roads since 2002.

Of course, being #1 requires an insight that is universal and that goes beyond the cultural, demographic, and regional interests across Canada. Rather than a melting pot like our friends south of the border, we as Canadians celebrate our distinctive origins to create a Canadian identity. Therefore, we positioned the nameplate in a fashion that represented the values Canadians share. We did this without throwing a flag in their face. The Civic mirrors the resiliency, reliability, and fun attitude Canadians are famous for. Our communications cater to the first-time car buyer, the speed-freak tuners, and families, while reflecting the humourous nature that Canadians are known for.

For Civic, we needed leverage insights born of something deeper, which affect us all. Working with human values that create a common connection was key to our approach.

b) Communication Strategy

At Grip, we use a proprietary strategy tool that leverages the work of social psychologist, Dr. Milton Rokeach and his hypothesis that consumers have 18 values that are drawn on throughout their lifetime.  These are the values that people hold dear. They drive what people really want. They’re the values that occupy day-to-day thoughts and influence behaviour. By identifying an appropriate value and tying it to brands and their products, we believe we activate a powerful, emotive connection to consumers that generates responsiveness, relevant messaging and in the case of the Civic in Canada, loyalty. 

Our approach to the Honda Civic communications has been to always execute in a manner that centred on a value of “happiness”. Connecting “happiness” to the ownership experience, the people who build the cars and everything in between, has helped to create a tone for the brand that people easily gravitate towards. It’s also easy for Honda to connect to “happiness” in a way that is genuine. From the very start Soichiro Honda presented “The Three Joys” as the motto for the company. Focusing on the joy of producing, the joy of selling and the joy of buying has guided Honda’s actions over the years. And after all, as the famous line goes “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.”

Over the past 16 years, we have seen many trends, media habits and conversations come and go culturally. But human values always remain through ups and downs, shifts in culture, etc. Therefore, by staying the course with our value-based strategy and keeping our eyes open and ears to the ground, we have found what’s most relevant to the Civic consumer. 

As each year passed and Canadians continuously made the Civic the #1 car in the country, it was our duty to ensure we acknowledged their support, cultivated their stories and celebrated the community that was being built. As a result Civic Nation was born – a community of Civic owners that have become ambassadors for the brand. So, whether it’s understanding that our consumers were tuning/customizing their Civics or that the environment was a topic of interest, we have always looked to take part in the conversations in a way that keeps the spirit of the brand connected to the customer. Our courage to stick to established brand principles through thick and thin has been key to sustaining and supporting our loyalty and conquest strategies for Civic.

a) Media Used

• TV

• Newsprint

• Radio

• Social Media

• Digital

b) Creative Discussion

Campaign development for the Civic was built on leveraging the human value of “happiness” and these key strategic, communication points:

1.  Celebrate the nation built around Civic. (see exhibit 1)

2.  Consistently drive the quality + dependability message of Honda. (see exhibit 2)

3.  Be relevant and in-line with culture. (see exhibit 3)

4.  Put a smile on. (see exhibit 4)


Creative Exhibit 1 - Celebrate the nation built around Civic.






Creative Exhibit 2 - Consistently drive the quality + dependability message of Honda.






Creative Exhibit 3 - Be relevant and in-line with culture.






Creative Exhibit 4 - Put a smile on.





c) Media Discussion

Our communications strategy has always been focused on leveraging an insight derived from our values-based consumer strategy and heavy data research. The creative, media agnostic idea then finds its way into mediums that are most relevant to our target, allowing us to be participants in conversation, rather than be disruptive, and be the most effective/efficient with our dollars.

a) Sales/Share Results

Over the course of 16 years, the Honda Civic has continuously held the designation of “number one selling car in Canada”. Although there have been many different product offerings from competitors that were self-proclaimed “game-changers”, larger media spends and difficult financial periods for the country and consumer, the Civic nameplate has shown great resiliency. Further entrenching its position at the top has been its 16-year average margin from its closest competitor that model year (15,359 unit AVG) and its average sales per year, which is 65,280.


However, what is greatly illuminated when looking at the sales data is the impact the advertising has had on the Civic nameplate since Grip took the creative reigns. If we use the previous 10 years as a benchmark, we can see the average annual sales volume has increased by nearly 30% (19,510 units).


b) Consumption/ Usage Results

c) Other Pertinent Results

d) Return on Investment

a) General Discussion

It’s rare for a brand to hold the number one position in sales for consecutive years, let alone 16 straight years. But through strong, insightful, strategic positioning, the lack of knee jerk communication reactions due to challenging variables during the time frame, and impactful creative, the Honda Civic has done just that. 

b) Excluding Other Factors
Spending Levels:

Due to the competitive nature of the automotive category and specifically compact cars, spend level cannot be revealed, unfortunately. However, Honda Canada has been challenged to consistently deliver against higher sales volumes and keep the “number one car sold in Canada” designation annually, while spending at approximately the same levels each year.


During its 16-year reign as the “number one car sold in Canada”, the Honda Civic has routinely had a starting MSRP that was a slight premium over the competition. Although this can be seen as challenging, not wavering from the brand strategy of DQR and values has allowed us to overcome this and win the category consistently.

Distribution Changes:

There were no significant changes to Honda’s dealer network (Honda’s primary method of distribution) during the subject period.

Automotive manufactures rely on fleet sales (rental car companies, municipal fleet vehicles, construction crews, etc.) to drive unit sales.  Relative to the competition, Honda’s fleet vehicle sales are insignificant which amplifies the importance of a loyal customer base to maintain the top position within the category.

Unusual Promotional Activity:

The Civic has maintained a slight premium price in the category and has run their sales activities in the same manner as other manufacturers in the category. For example, a fall model clearout sale occurs usually in August or a Holiday sale could occur in the months of November and December.

Other Potential Causes:

Not applicable.