A Rube Goldberg Machine of Automotive Parts

By Published on .

Client: Honda
Agency: Weiden & Kennedy, London
Star Rating: 4

The longest-running play on the English stage is The Mousetrap, the Agatha Christie whodunit, in which

In 'Cog,' car parts create a visually captivating Rube Goldberg-like action.
snow, wind, an old manor house and a bunch of unlikely characters are connected in an entertaining series of actions leading to murder.

The just plain longest advert in the United Kingdom at the moment also happens to embrace a bit of Mousetrap -- not the stage play but the Milton Bradley game, in which a bunch of unlikely household objects are connected in an entertaining series of actions leading to fun, fun, fun. Mousetrap, the game, is a plastic miniature of a so-called Rube Goldberg machine, named for the famous cartoonist's fanciful contraptions employing many complex steps to perform a simple task.

Two-minute masterpiece
The commercial, by Wieden & Kennedy, London, for Honda, is a two-minute masterpiece that simply follows the progress of what may be the most elaborate and wonderful Rube Goldberg machine ever assembled. Composed entirely of parts from a disassembled Honda Accord wagon, the machine begins its task with one cog rolling down a plank and touching another, sending it into motion.

What follows is a breathtaking display of not special effects but slow kinetics, as a tailpipe, tires, ball bearings, springs, windows, cams and many other Accord parts are sequentially triggered into action. One-hundred-twenty seconds later, the wagon hatch is pulled shut, changing the vehicle's center of gravity and sending it rolling down a ramp, tripping a wire that unfurls a banner with the Accord logo.

Then, in the spot's single line of copy, Garrison Keillor's voice declares: "Isn't it nice when things just ... work?"

Perfect brand iteration
Answer: yes. It's very nice. Also amazing. Also captivating.

Also delightful. And also, depending on how charitable you wish to be in assigning meaning to what you've witnessed, a perfect iteration of Honda's brand meaning: the perfectly dependable machine.

In that sense, this ad is very much like "Sheet Metal," the Saturn spot from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, that -- at least until now -- was the prohibitive favorite for the Grand Prix at Cannes. That commercial, too, demands absolute attention as the viewer watches people exhibiting all sorts of driving behaviors, minus the cars. And it also carries you transfixed to the concluding point: a shot of the redesigned Saturn, the sedan built with its human occupants in mind.

An impossible extravagance
It's a tossup as to which is better. While "Sheet Metal" is arresting and seductive, "Cog" is positively catnip, viewing after viewing -- at least for men. But not only is two minutes an impossible extravagance for a U.S. spot, a lot of machine-indifferent women will tune out the last 1:45. Furthermore, were you to be uncharitable, you might observe that, by definition, a Rube Goldberg machine is about unnecessary complexity to accomplish a simple task.

Which would be more or less antithetical to Honda's brand promise, wouldn't it?

But let's not overthink this thing. "Cog" is an instant classic. And it will play, on the world stage, for a long, long time.

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