How Creativity and Entertainment Can Demolish Your Ad’s Ability to Convince: Deconstructing Honda Odyssey’s “The Van Beckons” Ad

Today, I deconstruct the Honda Odyssey “The Van Beckons” Ad, and together we’ll learn why your message must resonate with your customer in order to drive sales. Miss the mark, even by a smidgen, and you’re in big, BIG trouble.

First Mental Image (FMI):

Average Joe walking out of a supermarket, late in the evening, carrying a bag of groceries. While standing in the parking lot, our main character finds himself mesmerized by the Honda Odyssey minivan, which happens to be in full rock concert mode.

Yes, the FMI surprises and grabs your attention. But that’s about it, because, as you’ll soon learn, the ad’s message falls short of hitting the mark.


Jam-packed with high-tech wizardry, the Honda Odyssey minivan obviously rocks, and is cool to drive.

Creative and entertaining? Yes. But there are two crushing reasons why the ad’s message fails to persuade.

2 Crushing Reasons Why the Honda Odyssey “The Van Beckons” Message Fails to Persuade:

1.) The ad answers a question no one was asking. The message is a HUGE disconnect for the viewer. I mean — who buys a minivan because it’s cool? Not a soul.

Moms and dads buy minivans because they’re practical and affordable. Well, most dads are probably dragged along for the ride. (Ladies, I’m only joking 😉 ) And never mind, for the moment, that the Touring Elite model shown in the commercial is priced at $43,250. Ouch!

Frankly, minivans are anything but sexy — even when you consider the Odyssey’s high-tech wizardry. Hey, we’re not talking about driving a Ferrari, okay? And there’s absolutely nothing Honda — or any other car company — can do to dress up a minivan and make it sexy to drive. Nadathing.

I’m sure you’ve heard of the old adage, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

Now, I’m not suggesting that the Honda Odyssey is a bad product. Nor do I intend to offend any minivan drivers out there. I’m just saying you can’t arm-twist your customer into believing that your product is something it’s clearly not.

Think I’m wrong?

Here are a handful of viewer comments about the commercial that I found on the Internet:

  • ddrhero says, “This guy’s in some deep s#!t. He’s already is so castrated by his hell-spawn of a wife that he finds a minivan exciting, NOW he dropped the milk. she’s gonna f#&@in’ kill him!”
  • Abandoned Ship adds, “I would NEVER buy/drive a van. If you put a gun to my head tho, this is what I would buy.”
  • Knightsport wisely advises, “Save yourself. Van abstinence is the way, the truth and the light. Amen.
  • GoLowDrew says, “Since I’m married, nothing that adventurous for me. However, I do take my power-nap in the afternoon sometimes to help me get through the 2nd half of the work day.”

Heard enough? I rest my case.

2.) Creativity comes at the expense of clarity. Judas Priest music rockin’… pyrotechnics… special effects (Did you catch the van transforming into a black panther, and Redemption road listed on the navigational system?).

Clearly, the Honda Odyssey “The Van Beckons” ad worships at the altar of creativity — a decision that lowers the clarity of its message.

Sure, we catch a glimpse of the Odyssey’s DVD players, and its navigation system. But is there a point of differentiation that makes these gadgets worth mentioning?

Many cars have similar DVD players and navigational systems. What makes the Odyssey’s tech-wizardry better than, let’s say, the Ford Sync® and GM OnStar® systems?

Clearly, we need more details than visuals can provide. But the ad’s creativity gets in the way.

Last Mental Image (LMI):

The van beckons like no van before. The technology-packed, all-new Honda Odyssey.

Not a bad last mental image — if the message wasn’t so off target. It’s worth noting that the LMI does a nice job circling back to the idea introduced by the FMI.

Stylistic Signature:

The ad has all the qualities of a chest-thumping, head-bobbin’, lighters-waving-in-the-air rock concert:

Judas Priest music blaring.
Special effects.

The only thing that’s missing is a plastic cup of $8 draft beer… and, well, a car that matches the defining characteristics of a rock concert.

This ad would have been more appropriate if the it were promoting the Dodge Challenger with its roaring Hemi engine. It just proves that unless you nail the message — nothing else matters.


Last time, with the Domino’s “Rate our Chicken” ad, we learned how a credible and relevant message can rescue an ad from a weak first and last mental image.

But persuasion cannot be achieved the other way around. In other words, an irrelevant message will never persuade — no matter the strength of your first and last mental image.

Never forget that the purpose of advertising is to make the cash register ring. And as I’ve said before, you can create the most entertaining ad in the world, but if you’re not speaking to the customer’s felt need, you won’t sell a lick of product. End of story.

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11 Responses to “How Creativity and Entertainment Can Demolish Your Ad’s Ability to Convince: Deconstructing Honda Odyssey’s “The Van Beckons” Ad”

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  1. HumanPersuasion says:

    Agreed Tom, the commercial misses the mark. Grocery shopping & rock concerts are tough to tie together.
    But like so many other men, I also THOUGHT I would never own a mini-van. It was below my cool class level. But alas! when I was forced into having to take a free rental car on vacation, it turned out to be a 2011 Toyota Sienna.

    And since I had a four-year old and a baby on the way, I returned home and bought immediately a 2011 Toyota Sienna b/c my wife and I had such a good experience in it.
    The mini-van was WAY better than our Ford Explorer SUV coolness.

    So true SUVs are still cool, but not mini-vans (no doubt Tom); but car makers are still trying to make them school w/ sportier looks and Van Beckon commercials, etc.

    They’re for moms b/c the doors open automatically and the new baby goes straight into the car seat, and the toddler skips in too and hops in her car seat. That’s the mom angle; the only angle for a mini-van is the mom angle.

    From a guy’s point of view, they should’ve at least had the back hatch open as the actor walks up to place the groceries inside. Emphasize the ease of numerous activities that are made 10x easier by the car automatically unlocking and opening, and by not happening to dig for keys, etc. No sweat.

    You don’t realize that opening doors was such a hassle, until you don’t have to do it anymore.

    The reason to have the mini-van is for kids. My wife drives the mini-van b/c she has the kids all day.

    I’m hip to drive it too, but only WHEN the kids are in it.

    A male actor, with groceries, getting into the mini-van, at night, without kids anywhere, was also a bad idea.
    What guy do you know that might be asking those kinds of questions?

    Mini-vans are about practical convenience for moms with young children. This is the question to answer.

  2. Nestdesign says:

    by contrast, have you seen the Swagger Wagon?
    for the Toyota Sienna?

         disclaimer – I am a minivan owner

  3. Robert B. Wallis says:

    This one really confused me. I kept waiting for the message. Then I realized: They’re trying to make minivans sexy. Nope. Can’t be done. Good points all around.

  4. Tom Wanek says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. As you mentioned, it’s okay that one chooses a minivan for its convenience and practicality. Your perspective certainly does change after having kids, especially with all the activities and such. Thanks for offering your perspective.

  5. Tom Wanek says:

    Now that’s too funny! Thanks for sharing.

  6. jay murphree says:

    Maybe I’m giving the creators of this spot credit for something they don’t deserve, but I’ve viewed this spot as being intentionally tongue-in-cheek. I figured they approached this from exactly your point of view (that it’s impossible to make a minivan cool) so they played off the ridiculousness of trying. 

    Maybe they still missed their mark, but with a cheesy metal soundtrack, fire, subliminal flash of a panther, Marshall stack in the back, etc., it’s obvious they’re going for waaayyy over the top here. I don’t believe they really expect the spot will make people start thinking of minivans as cool, hip or rebellious. 

  7. Tom Wanek says:

    Jay, you’ve made a great point, and you may be right in that the intent of the ad is to be over-the-top, tongue-in-cheek.

    Still, to what end? To entertain the viewer? If so, then the ad, in my view, still misses the mark by a wide margin. Because as we know, the goal of advertising is to persuade, not entertain.

    Now, I do believe the main purpose or message of the ad was to communicate the Odyssey’s cool tech wizardry. But again, from the viewer’s perspective, the ad didn’t communicate or show us anything we haven’t already seen from other car manufacturers. If I’m wrong and it did, the entertainment got in the way of the message. And as I mentioned, both Ford and GM do an better job demonstrating and differentiating each company’s respective in-vehicle communication systems.

  8. Married Old Vixen says:

    EVERYONE knows minivans are merely practical and nothing else. But the implication of marriage being dull and castrating, that’s just fucked up. “Since I’m married, nothing that exciting for me?” Seriously? Ah… but you see, THIS is the minivan advertising message. The assumption of life is over after “I do.”

  9. Once you’ve decided that you’ll never ever own a minivan, that’s it, game over. Unless… (insert dream sequence sound effects) …the minivan knew how to make those smokies with the bacon wrapped around them then rolled in brown sugar.

  10. Keath says:

    Jay is right.  This is aimed at upper-middle class customers (re: your point about price).  Since that customer base is typically educated enough to realize the commercial is stupid, then the commercial is deliberately stupid to make the customer feel smart.  There’s no price or features mentioned for the same reason there’s no price or features displayed when you walk in an upscale clothing store.  They’re (attempting to) brand the Odyssey as a luxury item, like the Mercedes and BMW SUVs their targeted customer is currently buying.

  11. Keath says:

    Also, it’s targeted at men.  Men will do their own research before going and buying (in the store, purchase only what you came for, out of the store).  If there’s comparative info in the ad, then it’s aimed at women, who prefer browsing, price matching, etc.  It’s the hunter vs gatherer dynamic.

    It’s also why the Odyssey is the only car in the parking lot, and why it’s framed like a deer in the target sites.

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