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case study
Honda's Augmented Storytelling
With no new models to launch at the Los Angeles Auto Show, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. uses augmented reality's high-octane capacity for storytelling to drive booth traffic and generate 72 percent more dealership contact requests. By Ben Barclay
Exhibitor: American Honda Motor Co. Inc. (a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.)Show: Los Angeles Auto Show, 2017
Size: 150-by-150 feet
Challenge: Lacking any splashy vehicles to unveil, Honda needed to find a compelling reason for attendees to visit its exhibit.
Solution: Honda offered booth visitors a six-part augmented-reality activation highlighting the history, evolution, and newest features of its redesigned Accord sedan.
Results: The AR strategy, which Honda deployed at future shows, helped fuel a 72-percent spike in dealer contact requests.
Creative/Production Agencies: George P. Johnson and Spinifex Group, both Project Worldwide agencies
Budget: $300,000 – $399,000
Auto-show attendees are predictably fickle with their time, and they crave the latest releases. But going into the 2017 Los Angeles Auto Show, American Honda Motor Co. Inc. (a subsidiary of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.) didn't have any enticing concept cars, wasn't premiering any new models, and lacked a single major announcement that might drum up buzz – all sizable speed bumps in an already competitive environment.

"It's tough to break through the clutter of the LA Auto Show," says Charles Koch, manager of shows and exhibits at Honda. "As the first major event of the season, most brands hit the floor with all-new engagements vying for the attention of the nearly 1 million visitors." And since more than 70 concept cars and new vehicles were slated to debut at the show, Honda ran the risk of looking like a used-car lot amid the latest allures. Adding a pothole to its slew of driving hazards, many of the automaker's top competitors had secured prime locations in the Los Angeles Convention Center. Honda, on the other hand, was situated away from the main entrance to the venue's West Hall, and its visibility would be further obscured by another exhibitor's large back wall.

What Honda did have to offer was its redesigned 10th-generation Accord, and giving attendees a compelling reason to kick the tires of a familiar model became a top priority. "We're seeing auto shows grow as a decision-making aid," says Sage Marie, Honda's assistant vice president of public relations. "People shop for the best price online, but the auto show gives them a physical place to interact with the car." That hands-on interaction with its Accord was a critical strategy in achieving the company's central objective of boosting sales leads, using opt-ins and dealer contact requests from the previous show season as key performance indicators. After all, Honda's research showed that more than 75 percent of LA Auto Show attendees were looking to purchase a new vehicle within the next 12 months, so it was critical that the company engage as many of those potential buyers as possible, or it would spend the rest of the year racing to catch up with its competitors.

To accomplish those goals and lure showgoers into learning about the Accord, Honda determined it needed a unique activity that paved a thoroughfare straight to its exhibit. Studying the attendee demographics showed that auto-show attendees tend to be young – more than 30 percent are considered Millennials, a target audience Honda thought was ripe for a fresh, technology-driven experience.

A Different Route
The tech boom has fueled a rapid influx of means through which exhibitors can relay the stories of their products and services in immersive, compelling ways. Even so, many industries still struggle to maximize the storytelling potential of the latest technologies. In the auto industry, for instance, the prevailing trend is to put those stories on large touchscreens, a format with which most attendees are familiar. A more novel approach is to transport visitors to an artificial environ with virtual-reality headsets. And while there's nothing inherently wrong with these approaches, the key problem is that both effectively eliminate a crucial element of the story from the equation: the physical product itself.

Since Honda regarded the Accord as its primary touchpoint, VR and touchscreens weren't viable options. However, the company's marketers saw an alternative route via augmented reality, a technology with high storytelling potential that would also keep users squarely in front of the Accord. In short, without a vehicle debut, the automaker decided to unveil something else: the HondaLens.

Tapping the AR capabilities of the Microsoft HoloLens, Honda figured it could drive bumper-to-bumper traffic and offer an experience that was immersive, memorable, and educational. "By overlaying content onto the vehicle, we could create a narrative that guides users through the HondaLens journey," Koch says. "A user could learn about the Accord's key differentiators and then ask a product specialist for more information."

Opting for AR came with additional benefits. First, the technology was new enough that the majority of attendees had never donned an AR headset and would likely be intrigued by the offering. Second, it provided a novel way to showcase the sedan's distinguished history. And third, an AR activation could increase overall dwell time – and every second spent with Honda was a second not spent considering competitors' cars.

To ensure Honda didn't spin its wheels with an activation that was all style and no substance, its marketers reached out to George P. Johnson and Spinifex Group, both Project Worldwide experience-marketing agencies. The car manufacturer tasked GPJ and Spinifex with educating attendees about the rich history of the Accord while highlighting its design evolution and newest features. Additionally, the experience needed to serve as a launchpad into the rest of the exhibit, which featured Honda's broader line of vehicles under the theme "Your dreams are our dreams."

"What makes AR such a powerful tool for learning is its ability to keep a real-world environment at the center of the digital experience."
The sister companies had developed AR activations for automotive companies in the past, so they found themselves traveling a familiar road. "What makes AR such a powerful tool for learning is its ability to keep a real-world environment at the center of the digital experience," says Jonny Ellison, creative director at Spinifex. "We developed digital storytelling techniques that take consumers on a tour in and around the vehicle. In other words, AR content is delivered in a way that takes full advantage of the physical vehicle."

The Open Road
On the show floor, Honda made its exhibit as bright and attractive as possible, given its less-than-stellar booth space. A suspended, curved header tagged with the company's brand and theme commanded attention, while the center of the 150-by-150-foot space featured a semicircular wall, the top of which featured LED monitors that told the Power of Dreams story through curated content and drifting dream clouds. In the center of that semi-enclosed space, a circular ramped dais showcased an Accord, and eight other car models dotted the perimeter of the booth.

While a suite of activities allowed attendees to learn about the company's "dream machines," register for dealer contacts, and join sweepstakes entries, the HondaLens made the Accord the star attraction. The AR experience was located in the corner of the exhibit nearest the hall's entrance to maximize visibility and serve as a beacon for booth traffic. A silver Accord positioned with its nose pointed toward the aisle was enclosed by a waist-high, 35-foot-diameter glass wall with white laminate graphics that introduced the model and clearly labeled it the HondaLens space. That glass wall was only interrupted on one side, where a curved desk with openings at both ends served as the entrance and exit to the activation. On top of the desk were four matte-black busts that held the HoloLens headsets when not in use. (Five other sets were tucked away in a charging station to be rotated in as devices lost power.)

Another in-booth activation, the Honda Dream Machine, prompted attendees to answer a few profiling questions and take a selfie using an embedded touchscreen. Then, with a puff of cloud-like fog, the "cannon" transmitted the images to overhead LED monitors.
Visitors drawn to the alluring activation met with brand ambassadors who introduced the experience with a quick overview of what to expect and instructions on how to adjust and operate the headsets. Once visitors were properly outfitted, they were set to begin their journeys. Six numbered decals on the pod's carpeted floor helped attendees know where to stand as they navigated the sequential chapters of the AR activation. To begin the first of the six chapters, attendees focused their attention on a floating holographic badge that read "Tour the most impressive Honda ever. Look here to begin." Pulsating blue arrows then appeared on the floor to guide them to the rear of the vehicle, where a floor graphic labeled with a number one emitted a virtual pillar of light.

Once there, participants located and focused on the next holographic badge to learn about the 40-year history of the Accord through animated callouts, motion graphics, and voiceover narration. A hovering timeline appeared with indicative arrows that guided visitors through seven key events ranging from the vehicle's U.S. debut in 1976, to its rise as the top-selling car in 1989, to its most recent iteration.

When the animation ended, the pulsing arrows reappeared on the floor to lead attendees to the other side of the vehicle, where they activated the second chapter and learned about the Accord's design evolution from its original two-door hatchback concept to the familiar four-door sedan of today. Floating holograms of simple line renderings accompanied by additional narration emphasized the key design changes between the current model and its most recent predecessor.

Honda's augmented-reality activation helped fuel a 72-percent bump in attendee requests for contact from dealerships.
A third set of wayfinding arrows led visitors to the driver's seat, where they slid behind the wheel for several augmented scenarios demonstrating the company's newest Honda Sensing technology. Gazing through the windshield, users witnessed life-size holograms of vehicles and road signs that were monitored by the vehicle's sensors. For example, a virtual car closely merged in front of the Accord, and the vehicle's cruise control automatically decelerated and then reaccelerated to avoid a collision.

"By placing consumers in the driver's seat, we were able to simulate dangerous driving scenarios through the windshield and demonstrate how Honda Sensing safety technology alerts drivers using the heads-up display," Ellison says.

The fourth chapter took place in front of the Accord and presented AR renderings of the model's new turbocharged engine and 10-speed automatic transmission – a first for front-wheel-drive cars. The penultimate segment put users back in the sedan, this time in the passenger seat, where motion graphics and narration pointed out features of the smart interior, including the heads-up display, 4G LTE Wi-Fi, and HondaLink – the company's app-based platform.

Finally, the sixth chapter returned visitors to the pod's counter, where they took an interactive quiz that determined which model of Accord was right for them. By looking left or right, participants answered three questions about their preference for power versus efficiency, how many miles they drive per day, and where they prefer to vacation. Using eye-tracking technology, the AR headsets recorded participants' responses to the animated questions before matching them with the vehicle trim that best suited their lifestyle and providing a more detailed look at that model's offerings. As the HondaLens experience concluded, a floating badge thanked guests for visiting and directed them to return their headsets to the brand ambassadors at the desk.

In total, the experience lasted between five and 10 minutes. To ensure no single visitor caused a traffic jam by lingering too long at any one spot, the application flashed time-out warnings that prodded slow-moving attendees to maintain the minimum speed limit. And although the HoloLens is intuitive to use, several Honda reps monitored the area to help troubleshoot any problems. Once the headsets were returned, attendees were free to cruise about the rest of the exhibit, chat with staffers, and explore the other models.

Driving Sales
The HondaLens experience clearly helped the car manufacturer navigate the roadblocks standing between its exhibit and the success metrics it craved, as word about the company's booth and AR engagement quickly spread throughout the show. Additionally, despite its less-than-ideal location, Honda delivered a cutting-edge experience that had attendees clamoring to climb inside the latest Accord. Throughout the four-day show, the HondaLens activation introduced more than 1,700 potential buyers to the newest generation of Accord. Plus, by using the mixed-reality capabilities of AR instead of touchscreen or VR alternatives, the automaker not only delivered content about the car, but also placed showgoers in front of and inside it.

Honda was so pleased with the results that the activation became a mainstay in its exhibits at several future auto shows, which meant thousands of additional prospects experienced memorable encounters with the sedan. By the season's end, Honda reported that the HondaLens engagement helped increase opt-ins for recontact by 19 percent compared to the previous auto-show season, and it documented a 72-percent spike in all-important dealer contact requests. Those performance indicators show that Honda's key messages about the Accord resonated with potential buyers – and prove that even without a new model to debut, exhibitors can still attract attendees with an improved in-booth experience. E

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