The much anticipated third salvo of Wieden & Kennedy's extraordinary U.K. campaign for Honda has finally been unleashed and let's put it this way: Toyotans can sleep soundly. Their foothold on the British Isles is, for now, secure.
In consecutive years, of course, Wieden had produced two breathtaking commercials-"Cog" and "Grrr"-that served notice on all competitors, scooped up every ad award in creation and established Honda, belatedly, in the U.K. marketplace.
But established Honda as what?
We can answer that question: as the ideal girl's car-practical, functional, dependable and kind to flora and fauna. This is all well and good, but not necessarily appealing to every customer, or even the majority of customers. We're thinking, for instance, of a certain type of male who car shops by using his penis as a divining rod.
Flowers and hummingbirds are cute, but not especially sexy.
Furthermore, even dowsers start water witching where they expect to find water, and Honda isn't exactly top-of-mind in the category of "legacy of motoring thrills." So, as long as we're talking about divining, we have to assume the agency's brief this time around said something like this:
Document a heritage of motoring thrills.
Make Honda look sexy.
Oh, and make the advertising at least as talked about as "Cog" and "Grrr."
An admirable goal. But if we're right on this, it was the last item that undermines the other two. This commercial is so busy trying to live up to its older siblings, so busy calling attention to itself, so busy being epic that it nearly drowns out its own simple message.
Not that the spot is awful. On the contrary, it's reasonably pointed and reasonably amusing. It just isn't much more.
The time element is ambiguous, but the story seems to start in the early `70s, where some unfortunate bloke with bad facial hair leaves his seaside trailer and plops down on his dinky Honda motorbike, all the while lip-synching "The Impossible Dream"-the Andy Williams version, sounds like to us. But as the journey proceeds, he finds himself aboard ever more sophisticated-and powerful-Honda vehicles. Here a motorcycle, here a Formula One car, here a cigarette boat.
In that last conveyance, our hero finds himself in the present, soaring into a vast waterfall-ringed abyss, from which he miraculously emerges in the gondola of a Honda hot-air balloon, just as he's mouthing "To reeeeach ... the unreeeachable ... starrrrrrrrr!"
To reach the eminently reachable 2 1/2 stars, we'd say.
While the opening has a kooky, Diesel-ish, post-modern quality to it, the denouement relies on a sort of supernatural imagery found in the world's worst commercials-and there's no evidence anybody's being tongue-in-cheek. Maybe the irony is simply hidden in plain view, but in any case it's distracting. By the time Garrison Keillor chimes in with "I couldn't have put it better myself," the message is floating away, too.
By the way, Keillor's radio show can be heard in the U.K., but his voice recognition there is almost entirely due to his previous Honda ads. How he "could have put it" is wildly beside the point, and yet another odd choice. Just reiterating the tagline, "The Power of Dreams," would have done nicely. But this choice, referential as it was to his role in previous ads, happens to be the smoking gun. It proves that Wieden was too absorbed in its own advertising heritage to sufficiently sell Honda's automotive one.
Review: 2.5 stars
Agency: Wieden & Kennedy