Q&A with Wieden & Kennedy/London creatives Michael Russoff and Ben Walker
Where did this idea come from?
Ben Walker: The new Civic was quite a departure for Honda because most of what they've made for a long time has been based first on engineering and secondly on design. This is the first car where as much emphasis was put on design as in engineering. What that meant for us was to do something that conveyed that passion and energy, rather than all the stuff we'd done before which was very much anchored in logic and engineering brilliance. This was to engage more on an emotional level. So music was one of the first things we looked at. We looked at a lot of orchestras and choirs because we needed to do something that felt powerful and emotional.
Michael Russoff: When Honda started talking about this new Civic, it was more about how it felt, things like they had lowered the driver's seat to give it a sportier ride. So it seemed like they wanted to very much convey the experience of driving. One strategic thing we chatted about early on is the opposite of engineering, which we called "enginumbing." Many cars have been designed and marketed in a way to make you feel as little like being in a car as possible. Like you're driving along in an armchair. So we thought the opposite of enginumbing was really feeling as though you're driving a car. We wanted to make a film that really expressed how people felt when they drove. So there was this thought that when you're performing a piece of music, you're really feeling the experience and emotion. So what if you were singing a car?
Did you have any doubts that a choir could pull off the types of sounds needed?
Walker: Yeah, we did a lot of trolling through a lot of different choirs, and no one was doing exactly what we were looking for, so there were a few doubts. But once we spoke to experts in the field, everyone we spoke to was very confident that with enough people we could achieve what we were looking for. I didn't really believe it until I heard the test done. It was a really enjoyable part of the process because it was something new.
Russoff: In the beginning it was as simple as, Can we get people to make these sounds good enough that people will recognize them? Then it was about, how do we make this into a piece of music, that has a shape and arc to it. There are pace changes, like music, with the stopping in the snow and then the beating of the rain droplets. We first did some tests with 10 singers to test the sounds. There was one choir, split in about five sections, and even when I heard them all in the same room doing it, I still wasn't too sure it would work. I think in the making-of video you can see me walk out in disgust at one point. Are people going to know that's a car window sound? It took them a lot of rehearsal to get the rhythm down and feel comfortable with the sounds.
What was the biggest challenge in making this spot?
Walker: Definitely the biggest challenge, and something we've never come across was we also had to develop the visuals in conjunction with the music. It was difficult to figure out which came first––do we shoot a bunch of visuals that the choir then sings to, or do we create a score that the director then puts his visual interpretation to? We ended up doing a bit of both. There just wasn't a simple, logical way of doing it. But we're very collaborative at Wieden, and so many people from different places—music, visual, directing—all sat together to figure out how to make this work together, which was really exciting. It was the most challenging aspect but also the most rewarding.
Was the reaction to the spot what you expected?
Walker: We're lucky Honda's an amazing client and we've been able to do some great work. The reaction we got was pleasing. I think it caught on better with the general public than the industry, perhaps because it's a bit less cerebral than "Cog" or "Grr" and a much more feely piece that people are much more tentative about whether they like it or not. And obviously the thing at the Oscars was an amazing end to it all.