Classic Advertising from the Adbrands Archive


Honda "Cog" by Wieden & Kennedy London (2003)

No matter how many times you might already have seen Wieden & Kennedy London's ground-breaking "Cog" ad, it never ceases to amaze with its technical and conceptual brilliance. Also its unexpected humour: for example, when the windscreen wipers crawl across the room like an animal. A number of ads have attempted over the years to make their point with this sort of Rube Goldberg or Heath Robinson contraption, but none with such elegant precision. It seems almost inconceivable that all of this could be achieved only with the parts from a single automobile. And more astonishing still, it's all real; created in front of the camera with only minimal intervention, but lots of preparatory blood, sweat and tears.

This was the ad which put Wieden & Kennedy's London office on the map after a very difficult start. When it first opened in 1998, WK London was ordered to focus exclusively on Nike work. When it was finally allowed to chase new clients, it was instructed to avoid any conflicts with its more established sister outpost in Amsterdam. Those restrictions and rumoured clashes with the hands-on US owners cost the agency no fewer than three management teams in just its first 18 months. Finally, though, things began to settle down with the arrival of Australian-born managing director Amy Smith (poached from WCRS) and creative directors Tony Davidson and Kim Papworth (from BBH). The key development was the capture of Honda from ailing CDP in 2001.

It didn't seem the most promising account. As a carmaker, Honda had by then an almost unrivalled reputation for dullness, a position that was exacerbated by CDP's several years of uninspiring advertising. At the time, Kim Papworth told The Guardian newspaper in 2006, "they built sensible cars for people heading for retirement." Worse still, Honda insisted on using a translation of its Japanese slogan for its UK advertising. "I knew nothing about them and didn't want to," added Tony Davidson. "When they said the 'power of dreams' was the mandated endline, I thought 'we are not going to work on that piece of business'. The power of dreams sounded like 'the ride of your life'."

Clearly, a different approach was required. The project was assigned to creative team Matt Gooden and Ben Walker, who came up with the idea for a chain reaction using parts of - well, it was originally to be the new Honda Civic - but that wasn't ready, so the client delivered its Accord instead. It was the job of French commercials director Antoine Bardou-Jacquet, along with a large team of assistants, to make Gooden and Walker's on-paper concept happen in real life. "Honda delivered the car for the test and when it arrived everybody jumped on with tools and we started to remove everything," Bardou-Jacquet told The Guardian in 2016. "It was great fun to destroy a beautiful car. Once we had all the car parts everywhere, we started playing. A bit like monkeys in a zoo."

Making the process actually work took literally months, as well as a production budget of more than £1m. Even the simplest things became difficult; like finding a studio large enough - or rather long enough - to house the whole chain of objects. In the end, though you'd never realise it without being told, there are actually two separate chain reactions, merged seamlessly halfway through. After months and months of preparation, the final film was shot over three days. It took 60 takes to get it right. And apart from that splicing together of two separate chains halfway through, the whole thing happened for real, exactly as you see it.

"The idea, the PR story, is that you do it for real," said Davidson. "That's as important as the film itself – the fact that Honda, as an engineering company, took these things to pieces, did this thing and spent months in studios. That's part of the magic of it."

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