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Honda picks Twitter fights with snack brands to promote new in-car vacuum

Honda tweets at Oreo
This week @Honda sent taunts to fifteen different brands on Twitter.

Honda's Twitter account didn't get hacked, it really did pick fights with other brands' twitter feeds. 

To promote HondaVAC, a new in-car vacuum available in some Honda Odyssey minivan models, the automaker fired broadsides at 15 different brands on Tuesday. In all, 60 brand tweets were sent on October 1, with 42 coming from Honda. The campaign generated 10.6 million impressions, said Honda, in excess of the 500,000 they typically get in a day.

It's the social media component speartip of a humorous new marketing push that also has television ads launching today featuring actors Neil Patrick Harris and Rainn Wilson as "spokescrumbs."

"Dear @TacoBell crumbs, if you fall on my floor, you will be no mas," read one tweet.

"Mmmmmmmm. The rainbow is tasty @Skittles," read another, along with a picture of a rainbow of Skittles getting sucked into a HondaVAC.

Some of the brands replied in kind. "Your vacuum cleaner sucks," wrote @TacoBell. "No, really."

And when @NatureValley called Honda's jab at them "crumby," @Honda asked if the granola bar brand thought it wise to raise the ire of the HondaVAC.

"No thanks. We prefer bicycles over cars," retorted @NatureValley.

Other brands took the time to craft visual replies. When Honda sent @Oreo a picture of its two nozzles, captioned, "Double suck," a reference to Oreo's line of double-stuff cookies, the treatmaker replied in kind. It sent back a picture of an overstuffed Oreo getting stuck in the HondaVAC nozzle.

"Hey, @Honda. Next time, try sucking up something your own size," read the accompanying text. Honda then sent back a picture of HondaVAC with an Oreo bulging the neck of its vacuum tube, looking like an engorged serpent after a meal.

The social media one-upmanship was eyebrow-raising in an era where a miscued tweet can end up on the evening news. And while brands have engaged in off-the-cuff snarky banter at each other on Twitter before — notably AMC and Oreo last year — this campaign systematically targeted multiple brands to achieve a marketing goal.

But what looked like virtual fisticuffs was just a playful part of Honda's plan to get the word out about how its new in-car vacuum available in 2014 Honda Odysseys can suck up all those bits of food that can end up on the floor of minivans.

"In a fun way we put all those crumb makers on notice," said Jason Sperling, creative director for RPA, Honda's ad agency.

For Honda, the effort was an extension of its history of customer interaction and as-it-happens social media interaction. Earlier this year it responded with Vine videos to customer questions in real time

"On a daily basis we're trying to engage with customers in a fun and personalized way," said Alicia Jones, social media manager for Honda, "this was an amplification of doing that to brands."

Many brands, if they're on Twitter at all, stick with talking about themselves or with their customers. But smart brands have figured out that using social media effectively requires a looser approach, said Marian Salzman, CEO of Havas PR North America.

"Social media means hustle, jiggle, enjoy the new jungle. Honda deserves a salute for doing it," said Salzman.

And several of the brands, though they mostly didn't get a heads up from Honda beforehand, were more than happy to participate and share in the retweets.

"We recognized the playful nature and tone of Honda's threat to various food brands and decided to play along," said Kurt Stafki, a social media engagement specialist for Nature Valley.

Even brands not part of the initial group of fifteen Honda went after got in on the action.

"Our social team saw the buzz around what Honda was doing and thought we’d have some fun with it," said Bentley King, a senior brand manager for Hellmann's mayonnaise.

Hellmann's sent Honda a BLT-themed taunt. Honda replied back with a photo showing their vacuum sucking up the sandwich, "resulting in tongue-in-cheek humor that brings awareness for both parties," said King.

"We’re always looking for new ways to be a part of the conversation and stay relevant amongst our consumers."

What appeared to be an East Coast-West Coast rap style Twitter feud between a car brand and snackmakers was just a new level of marketing, said Peter Shankman, a social media consultant. "Anything that drives traffic."

"This is all part of the social media game," said Nature Valley's Stafki.

Contact Ben Popken ben.popken@nbcuni.com, or @bpopken, or follow benpopkenwrites.com.