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My favourite ad of all time: Honda’s ‘Grrr’ from 2004

Wieden & Kennedy London somehow made the word ‘hate’ into a friendly and engaging message – thanks to cheerful music and primary colours – in the innovative ad for the automotive brand, writes Farrokh Madon

Asking for someone’s all-time favourite ad is like asking someone to choose the coolest sports car ever. Memories can fade. And the latest technology and design often look more seductive.

So I thought about some key criteria for what makes a great ad. Then I imagined what could have been done with the same idea, if it had been born in today’s dynamic media landscape.

One ad came to mind. Honda’s Grrr created by Wieden & Kennedy London in 2004.

Here’s why it sped past the rest. Please watch the film before you read on.

First of all, it turns a logo into a visionary brand. The wheels of most brands are driven by sales, but rarely is a vision and philosophy clear and visible. This spot for Honda’s diesel engine clearly articulated what gears up Honda’s engineers when they design cars.

A passion for constant improvement that is so intense, it makes you hate something that can be better. And then better it. It is a philosophy that would make people think of Honda’s engines at that time, and in the future, as creations by a bunch of restless perfectionists.

When you look at the endless possibilities opened up by social media and tech today, it is easy to see how this philosophy and vision could have been communicated in so many interesting ways.

But how did they sell it at the time. Well, ‘great work sells itself’ – it is said. Bollocks. Work that is disruptive should make you feel a little uncomfortable when you hear it for the first time.

Let’s look at a keyword in how the idea was communicated. Hate. A four-letter word in more ways than one, in an extremely politically correct world. I can imagine so many people in ad agencies saying: “I love the idea, but can’t we just say ‘make good, great’. It will be a lot easier to sell.”

Using hate here shows the degree of passion and intensity to constantly improve and evolve. It gives you a mental picture of someone who is creative, restless and a perfectionist. Of course, hate being an extremely strong word, it leapfrogs over the humdrum hubbub on the airwaves and stands out like Einstein on Main Street.

Full marks to the agency team for not being weak and settling for ‘make good, great’.

Another question though. How did they buy it? I have always said that you can’t do good work, without a great client. And you certainly can’t do great work, without a visionary client.

There are 100 easy ways to say ‘no’. And one very hard way to say ‘yes’. So hats off to the brave client which resisted the temptation to say: “I love the idea, but can’t we just say ‘make good, great’.”

Now to the craft. A cool idea executed badly is a terrible waste. In this film, using animation was the perfect way to offset the edge created by the word ‘hate’ and give a friendly face to the brand.

Happy-clappy music and lyrics, plus just the right choice of vocals made sure the idea was delivered in a loveable and memorable way.

Putting on my consumer hat, if I was to ever buy a car I ask myself – would a car made by restless perfectionists be on top of my consideration list? Yes, it certainly would.

Madon is no hater

Farrokh Madon is chief creative partner at J. Walter Thompson Singapore

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