Wednesday, April 30, 2008

You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda

How did Honda Bike start? How much did it influence your life? When was your first Honda ride?

My first Honda ride? I was visiting my second maternal uncle and his family in SJK Tien Chin in Bukit Lan when I had my first motor cycle ride as a pillion rider. It was a luxury then for if I did not take that lovely ride from the river bank to the school, about an hour's walk inland, I would have been very frightened by the isolation and the quietness of the tropical rubber garden environment. I was about10 years old then, my first visit to an uncle who was a headmaster of a primary school.

During the ride I must have turned green and even white because of the fear of riding very fast on two wheels and having over hanging branches hitting us. I was expecting a snake to drop on us any moment. The owner of the Honda bike was one of the nicest people I ever met. The ride was free and I saw beautiful unforgetable Orchid Hill or Bukit Lan thanks to him.

Later I began to see more and more Honda Cub in Sibu and my grandmother's area or Ah Nang Chong (Sg. Maaw). The pace of life became faster and easier. I believe my 80 year old grandmother also had her moments riding pillion on a Honda. Sibu was flooded with Honda Cubs in the 1960's.

The Honda has arrived in the same way as the saying "The Eagle Has Landed".

This time the Japanese invasion was of a different kind - the Honda Invasion.

My second most memorable Honda ride? We had a wonderful American missionary teacher, Miss Jackie Fries, teaching in our secondary school. She owned a red Honda motor cycle and she would give us great rides around the school compound. Yes, she is the nicest person you can ever meet in Sibu on a Honda. She gave us tuition free of charge, she allowed us to help her add the marks on test papers, she was a great mentor and she inspired all her students to go beyond our limits and dream the impossible dreams.

My cousin,Yuk Hee learned how to ride a motor cycle using her bike and she did very well. She was the envy of the girls. Able to ride a Honda. Also, she is one of the nicest people in Sibu you can get to know.

I did try to learn how to ride a Honda bike well but I wasn't good and never took the license. A few years later, I rode a Honda bike,illegally, in KL with a friend as my pillion rider and met with a very serious accident, with half my body almost literally scratched. My Foochow friends said that my "leh pian has cracked and I was not so 'sellable'.I have a 14 stitch-scar on my forehead which I always cover with a fringe. Perhaps because of that no Foochow ever asked my hand for marriage. May be I was truly put on offer - "slightly damaged, 70% off!!!" No Foochow taker lo......I still have a good laugh over that. Many do not know that I am one of the nicest people you can ever meet - the Foochow Girl on a Honda. (Sorry my children always say, self praise is no praise :) :) )

Years later when I took my MBA I had a lovely time studying Japanese Business Management and Theories. And Honda was one of my case studies.

Unknown to us then in the 50's and 60's the Japanese had studied us in detail. Because of their seriousness, they could penetrate not only our South East market but also the American market with east. A piece of cake if you do pre-studies of your market.

The history of Honda tells us that "Honda conducted market surveys in Europe and Southeast Asia from the end of 1956 to early the next year, with the former being covered by Soichiro Honda and Fujisawa and the latter taken by Kihachiro Kawashima.

In Southeast Asia motorcycles and mopeds imported from Europe were making their first appearances in the cities and towns, signaling the emergence of a popular new means of transportation that would soon rival the bicycle. In fact, as the region's economy grew, motorcycles were expected to outstrip bicycles.

Kawashima conducted a survey that lasted for more than three weeks, after which he returned to Japan and reported to Fujisawa that the Southeast Asian market was indeed promising. In return, Fujisawa told Kawashima, "Now, go off to America and check it out," ordering him to conduct a similar survey in the U.S. The country that Kawashima saw was truly the Land of the Automobile. After all, cars were an absolute necessity amid the vast expanses of rural territory, which had for years lacked a viable commuter network of railroads. And motorcycles were seen merely as adjuncts to cars, like toys one could use for leisure or, if one was daring enough, racing.

"I had always thought that motorcycles provided a means of transportation with which one earned a livelihood," Kawashima recalled. "Sure, they doubled as toys from time to time, but mainly they were used for everyday necessities. So, in my view America didn't come across as a country that had really accepted the motorcycle."

Upon his return from the U.S., Kawashima made a proposal to Fujisawa: "I believe it would be easier to begin with the Southeast Asian market than America."

Fujisawa considered the suggestion for a moment, then turned and gave a firm reply. "On second thought," he said, "let's do America. After all, America is the stronghold of capitalism, and the center of the world's economy. To succeed in the U.S. is to succeed worldwide. On the other hand, if a product doesn't become a hit in America, it'll never be a hit internationally.

"To take up the challenge of the American market may be the most difficult thing to do," Fujisawa concluded, "but it's a critical step in expanding the export of our products."

But what was most memorable to me about Honda is the advertisement by Grey Advertising, a major U.S. agency,which proposed the campaign with the slogan, "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda," Kawashima knew right away that it would work. This was to be a major campaign targeting the eleven western states.

The ad depicted housewives, a parent and child, young couples and other respectable members of society-referred to as "the nicest people"-riding Honda 50s for a variety of purposes. Moreover, the colorful illustration and highly professional design appealed strongly to the public. Those who would otherwise have rolled their eyes at the word "motorcycle," and those who previously had no interest in them, soon saw in the motorcycle a new purpose: one of casual and convenient daily transportation.

Mothers who once wouldn't listen to an adolescent child's plea for a motorcycle began to compromise, saying, "I'll buy you one, if it's a Honda." The Honda 50 even became popular as a present for birthdays and Christmas. And with its support from an ever-widening sector of the American public-from students and housewives to businessmen and outdoor enthusiasts-the motorcycle finally won recognition as a popular product.

Grey Advertising, now quite confident in its wildly successful Honda campaign, had a new proposal. "Mr. Kawashima," they asked, "would American Honda like to participate as a sponsor of the Academy Awards broadcast"

The Academy Awards broadcast was a major annual event drawing a public, eager for a taste of glamour and spectacle. Even then the show was televised nationally. Grey maintained that airing a commercial during this program, which attracted 70 or 80 percent of all television viewers, would immediately spread the American Honda name and product line across the nation. The broadcasting fee for two 90-second commercial segments was $300,000. Seen as an outrageous price that would immediately wipe out the revenue from about 1,200 Honda 50s, even Kawashima hesitated before giving it his approval. "When I heard they wanted $300,000, I had serious reason to pause and think about it," Kawashima said, looking back at the plan. "But Fujisawa 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."

American Honda thus became the first foreign corporation to sponsor the Academy Awards show. And because no one had ever heard of a motorcycle company sponsoring the event, it became a subject of constant conversation among industry insiders and advertising professionals.

But in April 1964 the TV commercial that aired across the country caused an even bigger sensation. The response was simply overwhelming, and people everywhere were clamoring to start their own Honda dealerships. Moreover, large corporations across the U.S. began to inundate American Honda with inquiries concerning tie-ups, including such requests as, "We would love to use the Honda 50 as a product in our sales-promotion campaign."

The Honda 50 had truly succeeded in its appeal to the American public. More than simply another motorcycle, it was seen as a casual vehicle for daily activities, and as such was an entirely new consumer value.

Advertisements are important. But wise decisions are also equally important. Clinch the deal when you have that great gut feeling. The Japanese have it where Honda is concerned in this case.

Yes, you do meet the nicest people on a Honda. In view of the great oil price hike, think Honda Cub. Be environmentally friendly, Be on a Honda.

(Source : Excerpts are from Honda History)

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