Honda taps H.E.R. for return of Civic Tour concert series, but must overcome livestream fatigue

After pausing its long-running Civic Tour in 2019, Honda was set to bring it back last year with the kind of big-name music star that has headlined the multicity tour for years. But Honda had to cancel the 2020 event as the pandemic struck, robbing the automaker of a valuable marketing tool to reach young buyers.

Now Honda is bringing it back, in virtual form, with a two-date concert series headlined by H.E.R. and livestreamed for free on the Twitch channel of concert promoter Live Nation. The first show on April 28 comes at a precarious time: While brands have been backing livestreamed concerts for more than a year, there is rising evidence that virtual-show fatigue is setting in, especially as higher vaccination rates mean more live concerts could be just around the corner.

“Zoom fatigue is very real in month 13 of widespread touring shutdowns, especially as a gradual return to touring is imminent,” Andrew Hampp, founder of music marketing consultancy 1803 LLC, said in an email interview. “Viewers are tapering off to return to in-person gatherings within their vaccine bubbles, which is why weekend livestreams have been particularly hard hit these past few months vs. the early days of the pandemic.”

The top five streamed concerts for the week ending April 5 drew an average of 596,381 views, compared with 1,112,249 for the week ending Feb. 8, according to data from concert trade publication Pollstar.

Advantages over other livestreams

Still, Honda’s Civic Tour has some advantages over other livestreams. For one, it’s a household name. The automaker ran the first in-person Civic Tour in 2001 and over the years has headlined it with big-name talent, including Maroon 5, OneRepublic, Nick Jonas, Demi Lovato, Black Eyed Peas and One Direction. (The 2020 tour was supposed to be headlined by former One Direction member Niall Horan, until COVID shut it down.)

“We have some equity in the name of Civic Tour,” says Meliza Humphrey, senior manager of automotive marketing for American Honda Motor Co. The brand, she says, has a “following of people looking to see when the next Civic Tour is going to be and who the artist is going to be.” 

The last tour came in 2018 and starred Charlie Puth. Honda put it on pause in 2019 “as we worked to assess and enhance our overall music portfolio,” according to a spokeswoman. 

Hampp notes that with its return, the Civic Tour is “now the longest-running branded tour platform currently in operation, following the 2018 cancellation of the Vans Warped Tour, which ran from 1995-2018 and was the largest touring music festival of any kind.”

As Honda moves to a virtual show this year, the brand is trying to raise interest by touting it as a high-tech “mixed reality” affair that blends live-action footage with virtual effects. The performance will include Civic imagery, while H.E.R. is expected to use her songs to tell a story about reaching certain career milestones, Humphrey says.