U.K. Honda ad wins global buzz

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More performance art than car commercial, Honda U.K.'s new two-minute "Cog" spot via Wieden & Kennedy, London, is dazzling the ad world's creative community as awards season approaches.

Five months of painstaking planning and experimentation went into creating the film, for which the new Honda Accord was literally taken to pieces. The car's individual parts were then used to construct an ambitiously complex Rube Goldberg-like contraption. A small cog rolls and nudges into a larger one, setting in motion a chain reaction that ultimately involves walking windshield wipers, rotating panes of glass and a tumbling muffler. The domino effect occurs in a spare room and ends with an Accord rolling off a ramp to a gentle stop as the voice-over asks, "Isn't it nice when things just work?" The tagline: "The power of dreams."

"They have broken the mold of relying on fashion and the latest techniques for car advertising," said Rooney Carruthers, creative director of London's Vallance Carruthers Coleman Priest and former executive creative director of FCB San Francisco. "It is eminently watchable and has subtly built a distinctive vocabulary for the Honda brand."

Ironically, if "Cog" becomes a Cannes contender, it will compete against an auto spot that features almost no car parts: Saturn's "Sheet Metal" from Goodby Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, which features people on foot doing things they'd do in a car. It is expected to be a favorite among creative juries.

The Honda ad was created entirely without special effects. It was split into two continuous takes only because no studio was big enough to accommodate the entire sequence. The only post-production trickery is the lighting on the car doors at the end.

"It's like a ballet," said Tony Davidson, joint creative director at Wieden & Kennedy, London. "It had to have rhythm, beauty and pace."

Ben Walker and Matt Gooden, the writer and art director behind the $1.2 million commercial, were given the first hand-built, pre-production model of the Accord, and stripped the car. They messed around with the parts for months, meeting with the Honda team weekly to exchange ideas and test concepts.

`brilliant nightmare'

The spot, shot over five days outside Paris, took 606 takes. "The shoot was a big nightmare, but a brilliant nightmare," Mr. Walker said. "It should have been a nervous and panic-stricken time, but we felt privileged and were constantly learning new things."

Wieden & Kennedy won the Honda U.K. business in 2001. The car marketer sees itself as the Nike of the automotive industry, Mr. Davidson said. But the brand has an image problem in the U.K., where it has a reputation for being dull and lacking in style. Honda is a fairly niche car manufacturer in the U.K., with a 3% share of the market.

Since the ad broke April 6, visits to Honda's Web site have quadrupled and calls to the contact center have tripled. The film has been entered in the International Advertising Festival, held in Cannes, France, in June. Its shot at the Grand Prix could be hurt by the fact that Wieden & Kennedy's Portland, Ore., office won the top prize last year, for Nike's "Tag" spot. To make it more politically delicate, Wieden Chairman Dan Wieden chairs the jury this year.

"Cog" won't air in the U.S. Eric Conn, assistant VP-national advertising for American Honda Motor Co.'s Honda and Acura brands, said the spot wouldn't work in America. "I don't have the luxury to use a spot with no feature benefits or to buy 120 seconds," he said.

contributing: jean halliday

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