Honda ‘Project Drive-In’ Case Study

Through Project Drive-In, Japanese automaker Honda associated itself with an American icon, the drive-in movie theater, a nostalgic part of America’s car culture.


Narrator:  “Drive-in theaters are an American tradition, but at the end of 2013, they faced a big problem. The majority would have to shutdown forever with the movie industry’s switch from film to digital projection.”

News Report: “To upgrade, drive-ins will need to spend at least $75,000 per screen.”

Daryl Smith, Drive-In Owner:  “It’s a sizeable amount of money, and I’m a little guy. I just don’t have that handy.”

Narrator:  “So this summer, Honda launched Project Drive-In, a movement with a simple goal: keep as many drive-ins alive as possible — and preserve the tradition. Most people didn’t know about the problem, so we created a mini documentary to raise awareness.  We launched the campaign with a contest where five winning drive-ins would receive a digital projector, determined by public vote. We sent the drive-ins a toolkit to campaign for themselves and mobilize their communities, and, man, did they get involved.

Drive-In Owners:  “Vote. Everybody needs to vote. If you love our drive-in, vote for us.”  “You can start voting to keep Mahoning Drive-In up and running.”

Narrator:  We set-up a fund, to keep more drive-ins alive, hosted the first Twitter Vine auction with film critic Leonard Maltin, and held pop-up drive-ins at Honda dealerships to get even more contributions. Within a few weeks we sparked a national conversation.”

NBC Nightly News:  “Tonight, NBC’s Randy McIlwain on how technology threatens to phase out one of our cultural icons.”

News Reporters: “Honda’s trying to shine a light on the plight of American drive-ins with a new online contest.”  “The owners and the community are rallying around this cause to help keep this piece of history up and running.”

Narrator:  “Celebrities tweeted and made videos about it. Local communities did everything they could to help.”

Drive-In Owner:  “He swears he won’t come down until we get a digital projector.”

Narrator:  “Drive-in fans across the country cast over 2.6 million votes and all this passion inspired people, and even other brands, to contribute to the cause.”

Honda Rep:  “You’re receiving a brand new digital projector from Project Drive-In.”

Drive-In Owners:  “Yes!”  “I can’t believe it.”  “It’s really incredible.” “Thank you, thank you so much for saving our very own drive-in.”

[3.6 million website visits.  865 million+ earned impressions.  27 drive-ins saved… so far.]

Related Materials

Using Nostalgia to Increase Customer Affinity

In 2013, Honda became the first Japanese automaker to be a net exporter from the United States. Yet many Americans still associate ‘American Honda’ as being a Japanese company.

Through Project Drive-In, Honda leveraged an under-served cause to associate itself with a nostalgic part of America’s car culture.

Integrated Branding

Honda branding is prominently embedded within the Project Drive-In logo:

Honda Project Drive-In Logo

Calls-to-action included branded asks, such as the title of this campaign video: “Project Drive-In: Help Honda Save an American Icon” Microsite and Social Media

Visitors to could vote for their local drive-in theater to receive one of five Honda-donated digital projectors, share the story via Facebook and Twitter, pledge to visit a drive-in, and contribute to the ‘Save the Drive-in’ crowdfund on Indiegogo.

Drive-In Location Finder

Honda Publicity by Potential Grantees

Honda gave drive-in theater owners customized posters, flyers, PR how-tos, and digital badges to campaign for votes. “Over 126” drive-in owners participated by writing an essay as well as creating a video and/or photo gallery, asking America to vote for their drive-in.

Project Drive-In Campaign Poster

Incentivized by the opportunity to be awarded an $80,000 digital projector, drive-in owners used their theaters and Facebook pages to rally their communities to support their local drive-in theater. After 45 days of campaigning, more than 2.6 million votes were cast on Honda’s microsite.

Honda Project Drive-In Voting

Honda’s Project Drive-In: Fundraising Video

Honda published a consumer-oriented results video, one month into the campaign. The mini-documentary featured grateful award recipients and then urged viewers to donate to save some of the remaining 140 drive-in theaters.

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