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Benstock had his marketing consultant make a video for the new Civic, focusing on the car's 40-year heritage.
To counter the poor reviews, he touted the nearly 150 changes that Honda has made to the car over the past four years -- not just this year's redesign -- while using strong residuals to offer Civic owners the same or lower monthly payments if they traded in their older models for a new one.
Paragon spent $5,000 on the video. And it is spending $25,000 monthly for digital and traditional marketing on the Civic campaign.
The strategy has worked. Civic sales since this spring, or buyers brought to the showroom by the Civic, have powered Paragon to among the best-selling Honda new- and used-car dealerships in the country.
Paragon expects new-car sales this year to hit 5,000, up 20 percent from 2010, despite vehicle shortages this year because of the March earthquake and tsunami in Japan that crimped production, Benstock, said.
Through 11 months this year, Honda brand sales fell 5 percent in the United States.
"The new Civic got some knocks from the critics so we decided to do our own campaign," he said. "It's a shame, but when Honda triples it gets booed for not hitting a home run."
The hallmark of Paragon's campaign is the trade-in offer, which Paragon calls the Civic Upgrade Program.
When Honda launched the redesigned Civic in April, Paragon sent cards and e-mails to 87,000 local Honda owners who had bought their vehicles from the store or were likely to buy a new car because their lease was expiring soon or for other reasons. Paragon Honda is in the borough of Queens.
Under the program, a large percentage of those owners could buy a new 2012 Civic for a monthly payment equal to or lower than their existing one if they traded in their vehicles, said Paragon consultant Sean Wolfington.
Wolfington owns Tier10Marketing.com, an automotive and entertainment marketing company in Key Biscayne, Fla.
Besides selling more Civics, the Civic Upgrade Program had two additional benefits: It brought in lots of used Hondas that Paragon could resell as certified pre-owned vehicles, Benstock said.
And Paragon was able to put previous Civic owners in Honda Accord sedans or other Hondas when they came in looking for a deal on a 2012 Civic, he said.
The new Civic "brought people in, and we were able to walk them up for $20 more a month into a new Accord," he said.
Paragon burnished the new Civic's image to help counteract negative reviews from Consumer Reports and others that panned the vehicle for cheap interior materials.
In its brochures, ads and marketing materials, Paragon focused on the refinements Honda has made to the model since 2007.
The video, produced by Tier10Marketing.com, speaks to the 40 years of service provided by the Civic in America, Wolfington said. It went viral shortly after launching on YouTube.
But the dealership eventually took it down over authorization questions raised over the use of some nostalgic Civic photos.
"The Civic's a bulletproof car and extremely important model for us," Benstock said. "We can't afford a down year. That doesn't pay the bills."