Brand Saga: Honda Activa’s 20 years of ‘scooterizing’ India

Honda Activa advertising journey

Touted as the ‘National Scooter of India’, the two-wheeler has been our ‘saathi’ in disguise when we rode those extra miles to reach somewhere. Today we hop onto the Honda Activa advertising journey.

India saw the entry of its first scooter in 1972 when Moped India Ltd launched ‘Suvega’ which was soon followed by Kinetic Engineering Limited introducing their moped – Luna. How can one forget the mighty Chetak aka ‘Hamara Bajaj’. Slowly, the nearly dead scooter segment caught the eye of ‘Activa’ which has been synonymous with any type of scooter in the country for two decades now. Thus began the Honda Activa advertising journey.

Honda 2Wheelers India recently announced that ‘Activa’ has created a new first as the scooter brand achieved the 2.5 crore customers mark. On the completion of its 20 years in India, we take a look at the Honda Activa advertising journey.

The ‘Riding’ Start

Honda’s JV with Hero started off Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India (HMSI)’s product line with scooters and the first to be rolled out in the market from the base of HMSI in Manesar was Honda Activa.

As per the company, Honda made its solo entry in India with its first two-wheeler when the scooter market in India was fast declining. It is said that while the production kickstarted in 2001, the roots of the scooter brand germinated in May 1999 with 109/125 cc scooter, 7 bhp (5.2 kW) range highlighting the concept of ‘kick and self-start’ and later the production began in Mexico, in 2004.

In the face of rising competition from motorbikes and cars, masses’ favourite Chetak lost ground in India, which put a full stop to its production in 2005 as Bajaj Auto stopped manufacturing scooters altogether. Activa, in the meantime, was ready to take on the market which was then ruled by the long standing Hero Splendor. Cutting the competition ahead, Honda Activa, in just 3 years of its debut in 2001, became the leader in the scooter segment by 2003-04.

Honda Activa Advertising Journey

Adding a new chapter to the scooter sale segment in India, Honda Activa harped onto many firsts of features in the category for instance – featuring the dual options of a kick as well as self-start.  The Honda Activa advertising journey, though is minimal and not quite aggressive, has been consistent in  launching campaigns for each of its Activa ranges with a clear objective and message for its consumers driving the ‘Power of Dreams’.

In 2001 the marketing mostly revolved around the Honda Activa 1st gen’s user-friendly specifications and was pegged as an easy-to-ride two-wheeler. The timely launch made it highly reliable when the industry witnessed a swift movement from heavy manual scooters to lighter, automatic ones.

Eight years post the launch of its first Activa range, Honda decided to upgrade and introduced the 2nd generation of Activa amidst roaring competition. It came with one of its kind and an industry-first combi-brake system which added to the safety of the scooter. The launch was supported by a 360-degree campaign and the TVC was broadcasted on major national channels to amplify the communication for the new 2G in town.

Titled ‘Joy On & On’, the campaign was conceptualised by Dentsu Marcom in 2009 with an English background score and product specifications integrated while narrating the story of a smooth journey of a father and daughter. Apart from promoting the combi-brake add-on, it also focused on the ‘Equalizer technology’ that the scooty was equipped with – a decade before this technology later became a norm in India.

Activa’s cumulative sales breach the 5 million sales milestone during 2012-13 as monthly sales crossed the 1 lakh units mark in 2012-13. In April 2014, Honda began an upgraded model of Activa with a 125 cc (7.6 cu in) engine and rebranded the model as Activa 125. Activa 3G swept into the market when the company launched its 1st 125cc scooter in India – Activa 125.

The introductory campaign ‘Step up in Life’ where the makers revived the famous ‘Congratulations’ soundtrack with changed lyrics to suit the product portfolio highlighted factors such as power, comfort, and style.

The auto major, sensing the rising demand and the whole new pop culture wave, introduced flashy colour variants of Activa to make the scooter look trendy. It was also the time when the JV of Hero and Honda came to an end.

The launch of Activa 4G with the least amount of updates in 2017 brought a slight change in the advertising approach. The brand so far concentrated more on having a ‘foreign’ tone in its narration with the English language, the campaign for Activa 4G had Piyush Mishra’s voiceover in Hindi and targeted the new generation.

Conceptualised by Dentsu One, the TVC was all about how India is doing things differently and how the new Activa 4G is their ride of choice. It was launched with the world television premiere of Jolly LLB 2 starring Akshay Kumar and ran on air across popular channels.

Continuing with its updates and launch streak, Honda introduced Indians to the 5G model with an improved build quality of the Activa and came with additional colour options- more peppy and fresh. It also the time where highlighting the new features were Boman Irani and Taapsee Pannu on the scooty featuring in the campaign ‘Love is Growing’ which sought to celebrate how Activa unites millions of Indian families and youth.

Titus Upputuru, the then National Creative Director at Dentsu One was quoted saying, “Activa is a household name in India. It has seen many generations. As we were briefed about the 5th generation model of this very popular brand, we thought let’s showcase how this love is growing. The film is a little chapter from this love story.”

In October 2019, the brand roped in the power couple of Bollywood – Akshay Kumar and Twinkle Khanna, to feature in it’s ‘ Quiet Revolution’ campaign for Activa 125 BSVI – Honda’s first two-wheeler in the BSVI era. The campaign aimed to highlight the feature of eSP technology i.e. Silent start.

The film shows Kumar through different stages of life, starting from a flashback of his childhood, his youth to this day. Cut to today, when Akshay tells his virtual digital assistant to “Keep Quiet”. That’s when he sums up the premise that since childhood “Keep Quiet, Keep Quiet” is what we have all heard.

After revolutioning the scooter segment for almost two decades, Activa brought its 6G revolutionary variant equipped with the new eSP technology along with features like the revolutionary silent start, telescopic suspension, double lid external fuel fill, Front 90/90-12 Tubeless Tyre, and 10%^ more mileage. When the BS6 emission norms were introduced, Honda upgraded Activa in order to meet the new guidelines and requirements.

The 360-degree marketing campaign celebrated India’s first choice of mobility on two wheels – the Activa 6G BS-VI, Conceptualised and executed by Dentsu One, the campaign salutes this ‘Power of 6’ with a celebratory kick-off to commemorate the beginning of 2020 and was rolled out across TVC, Print, Outdoor, Digital and Cinema.

Also Read: #BrandSaga: Bajaj Auto- An unstoppable Journey

The campaign synergised the 6 key benefits of the 6th generation Activa 6G with the 6 sixers of cricket – thereby, ensuring total recall to the Activa 6G – ‘6 Changes the Game’.  

On the campaign conceptualisation, as quoted in an official press release, Upputuru stated, “Sometimes, the story lies in the branding itself. Activa was coming with its 6th generation and it was called 6G. We thought this time Activa is hitting a 6. Cricket is known for its commentary, so we used the narration to sound like real commentary from a cricket match. We executed a simple visual hook of a 6 to aid high recall.”

Marking the 20th anniversary of its flagship product – Activa, in December 2020, Honda Motorcycle and Scooter India launched a campaign where it unveiled Activa 6G 20th Anniversary Limited Edition. The campaign aimed to celebrate 20 years of priceless love and togetherness between Activa and its customers. Capturing the precious relationship of a husband and wife on their anniversary when the husband surprises her by bringing home the all-new 20th Anniversary Edition of Activa 6G.

The Honda Activa advertising journey has been a heartwarming saga celebrating the love of its consumers and the emotional connection with the scooter which has catered to a population across ages and gender – it is said that one-third of its consumers are female riders.

Activa was launched in India when most of the players gave up on the dead category of scooters and concentrated on the new trend of ‘motorbikes’. Another insight that led to its introduction at the time also considered automatic scoters as a luxurious item for a household. Honda Activa took it upon itself to revolutionise the scooter market with timely technological innovations, upgrades, and various attempts at making Activa one of our own.

The Digital Play

Not possessing a dedicated Honda Activa page on any of the social media platforms, the company has always bet big on the traditional mediums of advertising. However, under the 2Wheelers profile pages on digital media, Honda is often seen promoting the ‘Activa’ range in sync with its mainline advertising blueprint.

In its 20 years of journey, Activa has ‘scooterised’ India in its own way. It has also raised the bar with its many new innovations, technology, and advanced features along with meaningful campaigns serving the brand purpose aptly.