Soft Power and the Honda CR-Z

Honda CR-Z

I didn’t understand the concept of ‘Soft Power’ until a couple of weeks ago, when I was invited to the Cambridge Union to speak about ‘Hard vs Soft Power’. Until then, I certainly didn’t think ColaLife had any of either. But apparently we have soft power, and this car is a very obvious manifestation of that.

Soft Power (according to political advisor Joseph Nye) is ‘The ability to get what you want using attraction…’ Now I didn’t set out to ‘attract’ a brand new car (I’m more of a bicycle sort, a kind of ‘antidote to Jeremy Clarkson’) and I didn’t know I wanted one of the new hybrids. I do now!

So, what have I been doing driving around in a brand new Honda CR-Z?

Well, ColaLife was recently invited to take part in ‘The Dream Factory‘, an exhibition in Brick Lane – alongside a website and a limited edition book – featuring twenty British “Cultural Engineers” (cultural innovators including musicians, artists, film makers, social entrepreneurs… and me.) A couple of weeks later, Honda phoned me up and asked if it would be handy for me to borrow the CR-Z for a few days, with a full tank of fuel, insurance and no strings. Well, what do you say?

The CR-Z was certainly a dream to drive – a bit like three cars in one. It has three switches: Sport; Normal and Economy. In the Normal and Economy modes it very subtly encourages you to drive economically. Definitely a bit of ‘soft power’ there. The difference between the modes was incredible – from high performance sports car to sedate (but luxury) hatchback at the flick of a switch! When you’re in traffic and you stop and take the car out of gear the engine stops (in Normal and Economy modes). Then when you put it into gear it starts again instantaneously and with none of the noise and kerfuffle associated with the starting of a conventional car. In a busy London street the engine is not running most of the time.

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Here’s a very bad picture of the instrument panel. Note the green ring around the speed indicator. This morphs through green – blue – red to indicate how efficiently you are driving. Here we are cruising at 75mph – the disc is green, cruise control is on and we are doing just over 50mpg (and the air conditioning is on). Note also that the car is drawing slightly on the battery unit – the blue band on the CHARGE-ASSIST indicator (on the left). Oh dear, I seem to have morphed into Jeremy Clarkson…

Well, driving the CR-Z was quite an experience. I’ve never driven a car that turned heads before – incredible. And, as well as delivering me comfortably, stylishly and economically to Cambridge, it made me begin to understand what Joseph Nye meant and helped illustrate my talk.

‘The Power of Dreams’ has long been a theme of Honda. Each new car is seen as the realisation of someone’s dream. Honda also work with young people through schools on ‘The Dream Factory’ project whose purpose is:

. . . to provide inspiration and a sense of excitement about manufacturing and engineering to students—to communicate the importance of dreaming and taking on challenges. >>more

This activity also, presumably, gets young people (future potential customers) interested in the Honda company.

Honda’s approach to marketing is a new one to me. The strategy clearly benefits Honda – no-one there asked me to talk about the CR-Z, or blog about it, or show it to anyone. But it has really helped get ColaLife to a new, extended audience, and, presumably, vice-versa. Their tactic seems to be: create an atmosphere around the car and then float it into the market on an undercurrent of interest, using more traditional approaches. I’d like Coca-Cola to look at this strategy . . . I have a few ideas.

Anyway, I was very sad to see this particular car go. And, if Honda want to find a long term home for this machine they know where to come.

Thanks for your support Honda.

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