The Call of the Wild, a short story of famous American writer Jack London, tells the life of the dog Buck. Readers are prone to indulge in exploring Buck’s journey of self exploration and adaptation. From a “royal” leisurely life, Buck is forced to become a sled dog in the Alaskan wilderness. Buck has to fight for foods, learn every skill to fight with wolves and avoid Eskimo dogs (a tamed sleigh dog) bite on its throat in daily competition.
The fierce and risky life provides Buck with a valuable lesson: adaptation is the leading skill to exist and win.
Buck is not the biggest and strongest nor the most skilful dog. Buck, however, is the most intelligent, fast learning and, more important, owns the excellent adaptation ability in any circumstances. All these things help him become the winner in nearly any battle.
The scientist Darwin claimed that the adaptation and the species diversification are resulted from the evolution. The new species are derived from old ones through struggle for existence and natural selection. To survive, every species involves in this competition in which only the strongest one would survive. That’s the rule of evolution.
The great story of Buck evokes a couple of association with the brand’s constant changes and struggle for existence these days.
Honda Vietnam is an typical example.
Honda has been known for its “invincible” quality. No matter how great Honda’s quality is, its core value is only a value in performance: the most durable motorbike. In contrast, Piaggio is not just a bike. In many eyes, Piaggio is a “fashion product” symbolised for Italian romance and elegance. Piaggio users experience an higher “status” than any others.
Recently, motorbike market has witnessed a awkward change from Honda: they make great efforts to switch its positioning into … Piaggio style.
Piaggio’s Liberty is heavily advertised as Italian style. And in the past month, Honda’s SH Mode has run the same show. In a recent launching event, Honda’s general director even appeared in Italian costume and style.
Japanese is well-known for its conservation and tends to “embrace” their traditional Asian values. Now, Honda takes risks to switch from a Samurai who is serious and heightens “comfort is better than pride” into a Roman sentimental and stylish vagabond.
Is Honda on the track of Darwin’s evolution theory? In Jack London’s literary words, Honda is “running” after the attractive invisible “call”. It; however, seem to be another call instead of “the Call of the Wild” as Buck follows.
In dangerous circumstances, its wolfish intelligent “original instinct” helps Buck adapt like a chameleon. He is both flexible and firm, attackable and defensive alternatively to win any battle. Buck simple has the right strategy.
Is Honda on the right strategic track when they have made a great effort to change Samurai image into an Italian fashion model?
There are changes in Vietnam’s motorbike market. Years ago, Honda won other competitors with only point of difference: durable. These days, most motorbikes can “run well”. It likely that Honda’s durable feature is no longer its only USP.
Poor Honda! Piaggio is a long-time A-level actor in the fashion catwalk. Piaggio’s “fashion scooter” tag is already stick into consumer’s minds. The rule of brand positioning states that: it is unwise to make efforts to “steal” the positioning association of another brand. That road will lead to the wall.
In addition, Honda is strongly associated with “durable motorbike” in Vietnamese consumer’s minds. So, don’t try to cram “fashion motorbike” words to their minds even if Piaggio was not in the market.
While Buck successfully applied the “chameleon” strategy, he could immediately come back to his real instinct in need: to be wise and dominant ambition of a born-to-dominate dog (Buck was born by a leading wolf and Norwegian intelligent shepherd).
At the end of “the Call of the Wild” story, Buck eventually returns to the wild and becomes an Alaskan leading wolf after the death of his dear boss Thornton (he is Buck’s only connection to the civilisation life).
Will SH Mode be the long term brand strategy of the parent brand Honda? If positioned as “fashion motorbike”, Honda had better not endorse SH Mode. Or Honda would go further and further from its “lord” position in the segment of “durable motorbike”.
How about “Fashion scooter” segment? It’s difficult for Honda to become “Rome artist”. Fashion and art are simply not Honda’s “the Call of the Wild” DNA. Is that true?
Nguyen Duc Son
Brand Strategy Director – Richard Moore Associates