Students drive Honda media campaign

Posted Nov. 18, 2010, at 8:12 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — C.R. Zazzy loves his Honda CR-Z.

This 20-something guy dates only women he knows will look good sitting in the passenger seat of his hybrid sports coupe.

Wherever he parks the stylish two-door hatchback, strangers rush up to him to ask, “Are you somebody?”

And every time Zazzy opens the windows and cranks up the car’s sound system, a crowd surrounds his 2011 Honda CR-Z and starts dancing to the music.

Not bad for a guy who’s just a persona created by students in J. Nancy Roberts’ public relations class at the New England School of Communications — or NESCom — located at Husson University in Bangor.

Zazzy — as portrayed by student Bryan Lackee, 22, of Oxford Hills — is one of the reasons the media campaign created by Alexandra Booker, Beth Churchill and Kristen Sprague is one of 10 student media campaigns and one of two schools from Maine to make it to the semifinals in Honda’s CR-Z national media challenge. A team from the University of Southern Maine also is in the semifinals.

“Our idea was to create a spokesperson to embody how much passion a person could have for this car,” Churchill, 19, of Corinth said Thursday. “We wanted to have all the social media used by our generation under his persona and we wanted the car’s name to be part of the character’s name.”

The challenge from Honda was to create a six-week campaign using social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Flickr to promote the company’s first hybrid sports car, explained Booker, 20, of Bradford. Because one of the criteria on which the winner will be chosen is the number of people the campaign reaches, “Zazzy” and other NESCom students have taken the car to events where they knew there would be large crowds.

“Zazzy” showed off his car at homecoming and the recent Ludacris concert at the University of Maine. Students dressed as zombies and took the CR-Z to Fright at the Fort, a Halloween event at Fort Knox in Prospect. Everywhere the car went, students caught people’s reactions on video, which was edited and posted on a cam-paign-specific website.

Next month, Honda will announce three finalists, who will be flown to California and present their plans and results to company executives, public relations experts and journalists. Members of the finalist teams will be given virtual internships for the spring 2011 semester. The first-place team will attend a promotional event at a major metropolitan city next spring.

“Honda is excited to present the CR-Z Marketing Challenge and work closely with college students from across the country,” Jessica Fini, a Honda spokeswoman, said last month in a press release announcing the semifinalists. “The students have done a great job of capturing the unique qualities of the CR-Z and translating that into innovative and creative public relations campaigns that involve social media, on-campus events and traditional media outreach.”

The NESCom team has been monitoring its competition, Sprague, 21, of Glenburn said Thursday.

“We really took a different approach than all the rest,” she said. “Ours is the only one with a spokesperson.”

Ron Russell, the director of Darling’s Bangor dealerships, which includes Honda, said he learned about the contest when he got a call from Roberts in September asking him and his director of advertising to judge the half-dozen proposals students in her public relations class presented.

“We were incredibly impressed with the different campaigns they came up with,” he said Thursday. “They have gone at it full blast. We sent two salesmen over there for the test drive earlier this week and there was a long line of people waiting to drive the car.”

The Darling Honda dealership lent the CR-Z to the students for the campaign with the stipulation that it be driven only to and from events.

The Honda CR-Z the students have been using retails for $22,160, he said.

Russell said it was hard to judge the impact the students’ six-week campaign might have on sales. He said he has followed the events and videos the team has posted on its Facebook page.

“I suspect, in the end, it’s going to be very effective,” Russell said of the students’ efforts.

Participation in the campaign’s execution has extended beyond Roberts’ class to other NESCom students studying video production, Web media and photography, the teacher said. The campaign also has given her students experience in marketing.

“We had to make decisions, implement them and then revise them on the fly,” Churchill said. “After my first year here, marketing was still an abstract term. But in doing this, I’ve learned what’s it’s really about.”

The students agreed Thursday that they are eager to hear whether they’ll make it to the next level of the contest, but said that they are not looking forward to Tuesday. That’s the day they have to turn the Honda CR-Z back over to the Russell.

For more information about the students’ media campaign, visit www.crzazzy.com. To learn more about NESCom, go to www.nescom.edu.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly said that Husson’s team was the only school from Maine to be named to the contest semifinals.

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