The Advocate – September

The first candidate for the Advocate is Honda. Loads of people wanted to talk about it and there already seems to be some healthy debate on the subject – thankyou Neil and John.
Let me pin my colours to the mast.
I think what Honda and W+K have done is extraordinary.
They made the Power of Dreams live as an idea (I remember seeing it pre-W+K and thinking it was brand consultancy tosh).
They showed us that a brand that had a unbelivably poor communications legacy could change its spots overnight with the right people (inside and outside the organisation). No one now remembers the awful work of the CDP years.
They showed us how coherence is more important than consistency.
They showcased new approaches to planning.
And they have thrown off some excellent campaigns along the way – my favourites being Jazz road rage and Grrr.
I really, really, really want this work to be working and in truth there is an IPA paper from the early years of the campaign (that I will try and provide some sort of link to).
Now there have been both supportive and unsupportive comments on this blog about Honda but I guess I’d really like Stuart Smith to give his top-line on the campaign as well as everyone else mucking in. If you made comments about Honda on a previous post please repeat them, I know its a pain but I want to gather all the Honda stuff in one place.
Remember if Honda has done the business W+K get an all new Strategy Cow complete with authenticity certificate.
In addition you can keep nominating campaigns you’d like me to advocate, preferably in the original post.

Let me pin my colours to the mast.
I think what Honda and W+K have done is extraordinary.
They made the Power of Dreams live as an idea (I remember seeing it pre-W+K and thinking it was brand consultancy tosh).
They showed us that a brand that had a unbelivably poor communications legacy could change its spots overnight with the right people (inside and outside the organisation). No one now remembers the awful work of the CDP years.
They showed us how coherence is more important than consistency.
They showcased new approaches to planning.
And they have thrown off some excellent campaigns along the way – my favourites being Jazz road rage and Grrr.

I really, really, really want this work to be working and in truth there is an IPA paper from the early years of the campaign (that I will try and provide some sort of link to).
Now there have been both supportive and unsupportive comments on this blog about Honda but I guess I’d really like Stuart Smith to give his top-line on the campaign as well as everyone else mucking in. If you made comments about Honda on a previous post please repeat them, I know its a pain but I want to gather all the Honda stuff in one place.
Remember if Honda has done the business W+K get an all new Strategy Cow (complete with authenticity certificate) to add to their prodigeous awards haul.
In addition you can keep nominating campaigns you’d like me to advocate, preferably in the original post.

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61 Replies to “The Advocate – September”

  1. I agree, it’s one of my favourite campaigns from the last 10 years. If I remember the IPA paper correctly Stuart had a pretty water tight case for the campaign. You can download the IPA paper from if you click on downloads.

  2. I salute the passion and god knows I have been wrong before.
    On the other hand this is starting to look a bit like you ad chaps’ Alamo if you are not careful. Are you saying that it is such a perfect piece of advertising strategy and craft that it is a benchmark for all TV advertising? So if this didnt work…?
    I still would have taken Honda down the ‘new oil crisis’ route personally. It answers a cultural reality and gives it a place in the world (it’s such an also-ran brand it has to challenge). That’s what made it such a success in the USA. Take on the 4×4 (somebody, please). Be the new VW, Bernbach style.
    But that’s just idle staring over the fence. this is about what they actually did do and how well it worked.
    Again, I know that I dont have the full data or much of a handle on the market and so could be totally wrong. But it’s much more fun to debate this and have the agency actually prove its case than put out a few sales figures (10% a year – wow!) and hope to carry the case on goodwill. W&K are such a successful, admired agency I am sure they can take this in their stride; or not give a f*** what a bunch of adliterate planners think, which is also valid.
    The crux is this: Honda seems to be no more successful in the UK (as a result of those ads) than elsewhere, according to published data.
    From the IPA paper
    “But wait… this still leaves one possible non-campaign reason behind the sales increase. Cars. As in, new Honda models. We can’t discount that factor, and we wouldn’t want to. New models and upgrades had been successful, which was brilliant.”
    Fair enough, but you do need to show that they were much, much more successful in the UK than elsewhere, right?
    I dont have the UK-only FY04-06 figure. But we do know sales were up ‘55% in 2000 to 2005’ which is presumably roughly what it grew FY01-06 (previous W+K post), 28% from 2002 to 2004 (IPA paper), so the increase from 2004 to 2006 must have been of the order of 20%? Give or take.
    From 2004 to 2006 with the same model introductions in other (non US/Japan) regions the Honda annual report shows
    +25% throughout Europe,
    +62% in Asia and
    +46% in ‘Other’
    I know everybody loves those ads (D&AD black pencil, blah, blah), but that data has to raise a few questions?
    Compare this with Toyota; I’m biased as I have a Prius, but as far as I know they are both doing much better than Honda in Europe (bigger share, faster growth) and also doing groovy 2.0 stuff like being the first car marque in Second Life.
    Hopefully the questions will be answered and you can all proclaim that (new media, changing values, marketing resistance etc. were a mirage and-) big, expensive, entertaining TV advertising works just as well as it did back in the days of the Levis Launderette. But Levis are another watershed; I prefer their best ads of the last ten years to the Honda ones (Flat Eric had something like the impact of a new movie) and yet Levis lost 42% of sales value over 8 years.

  3. Right, here’s my stall.
    I too fell in love with Honda because of W+K. Wouldn’t buy one, but I respect the marque. It’s one of those brands now, where even the name sparks a massive myriad of rich connections and images. I think as a planner, I fell for it even more so than I would have as a punter (hard to know). The doors that it opened for planning, as I recently posted here, were and are remarkable, and will inspire great thinking, I’m certain.
    So I want for it to have worked.
    But. Recently I’ve begun to think it needs to evolve, fast, before it cloys. The positive hate/welcome to optimism credo answered all sorts of complex needs, I think, providing the near-disenchanted of this decade with the chance to be enchanted again. Permission to be cheerful. I’d take a punt on the fact that it directly inspired Innocent and the Crocs attitude, for two.
    I suppose what I’m saying is, it was perfect for its time. But I think the times are changing.

  4. Weiden & Kennedy Grrr ad: October 2004
    Innocent Smoothies launch: April 1999
    ie I think it is possible that one is a copy/homage/pastiche of the other, but until Honda invents a time machine…? Anyway both of them owe Ben & Jerry’s and actually the 1960s flower power movement their main debt of gratitude.
    > The positive hate/welcome to optimism credo answered all sorts of complex needs, I think, providing the near-disenchanted of this decade with the chance to be enchanted again. <
    Was the Honda ad really that big a deal? I doubt it will even figure within the ‘Now That’s What I call 2004″ documentary that is made one day. It’s just an ad. In a world where TV ads are less and less like cultural landmarks. Where is the evidence that it struck some deep chord with a disaffected generation, converting them to the point of being enchanted? I hardly even saw it on TV, for one. According to press reports it only aired for two weeks. Exposure is different in the ad industry; because of the awards – you have all seen it since more than any consumer, maybe ten times more than them, more than the advertising for all other cars added together (it is in the top 5 ads downloaded from AdAge). Perhaps that accounts for your rich cultural web of associations…?
    NB could you do a study showing that ad people drive Honda’s. If the ad has an enchanting effect you shouldnt be immune?
    I think my position in this debate, why i feel it is worth debating, even leaving Honda aside for a moment could be one of profound scepticism and a stand against empty hyperbole.
    Shouldnt planners have some sort of duty to stick to the facts/truth/data/real insight where all around them will follow whim, house style, politics etc? Can clients trust you otherwise?
    Isnt that one definition of a planner (to Gareth Kay’s post on this recently); the person who will ground creative development and brand strategy in REALITY. Otherwise you really are stuck with the position of being court postrationaliser in chief.
    Hate something, change something…

  5. But as the APG paper demonstrated, the Grr campaign came directly from a brand truth – Honda’s engineer hated diesels so much that he only agreed to build one if he could start over from the beginning. Whether that story is realised by, well, anybody outside W+K and the APG crowd, is probably doubtful, but it does demonstrate that the ad is not simply empty hyperbole.

  6. One little quibble John. I don’t think you can get away with criticising the Honda campaign for being both a big old-fashioned TV driven campaign AND for not being on air much.
    One of the things that Honda did was demonstrate that you can create films that effectively address a buiness problem (low consideration) and get them infront of millions of people without having to use much big TV.

  7. I’m not taking anything away from this campaign, but in my mind the determining factor behind a successful advertising initiative is the resulting sales growth, and I need someone to confirm whether or not this has made a difference on the bottom line.
    Until then, here are my thoughts;
    – In a time when car TV advertising was not the best (in my opinion), this campaign achieved stand because it’s a great piece of engaging entertainment. You don’t need to buy a car, want a car, or care for a car to have liked the ads.
    – The local adaption of this thinking is non-existent (at least where I live)
    – I’m reluctant to believe this demonstrates the ‘power of dreams’ in a relevant manner. Whose dream are we living and why can’t it be mine (as a consumer)? Is it meaningful? I don’t think so.
    I’m interested in finding out whether or not the different TV executions have enhanced or fragmented perceptions of Honda and buy in towards ‘power of dreams’.

  8. Some words from the comments as Ze frank might say.
    ” I think as a planner, I fell for it even more so than I would have as a punter (hard to know).”
    As a non-planner I find that an alarming statement – punters don’t fall in love with advertising, they might notice it but they don’t fall in love with it.
    “I’m not taking anything away from this campaign, but in my mind the determining factor behind a successful advertising initiative is the resulting sales growth”
    Some logic there, but in a category beset by vast over-supply, a campaign might have been worthwhile even if the bottom-line worsened.
    “Shouldnt planners have some sort of duty to stick to the facts/truth/data/real insight where all around them will follow whim, house style, politics etc? Can clients trust you otherwise?”
    Well they should but as an outsider I have rarely seen evidence of it. The nadir was the laughable claim that Jamie Oliver advertising alone had added £2 billion to the company’s capitalisation.

  9. John G. You’re right. Partly. My mistake was quoting positive hate, not power of dreams (since Wieden took it over). I think this conversation is about Wieden’s entire treatment of Honda. Certainly not just Grr. Sorry about that.
    I happen to think that with Honda, W+K have tapped into something that Innocent, as one example have played upon. Not in their innovation. In their communications. Quoting Innocent’s product launch next to Grr’s first airing doesn’t really apply when considering the effect each of these evolving brands may or may not have had on one another.
    John Dodds. I don’t think there’s any problem with falling in love with a strategy as a planner, and having the honesty to admit your reaction as a non-planner would be different. My position is that I love the thinking behind this campaign. You’re right that I wouldn’t as a non-planner. No reason to. That’s the point. But I would love the ads. I try my very hardest to be a non-planner as much as possible in the industry at the first stage of judging work (I happen to believe this initial visceral reaction is the only way to maintain integrity), but a planner also has to recognise good planning when they see it. Nothing wanky about that.
    And for what it’s worth it’s the punter in me that’s starting to become worried about the tone of voice Honda’s coined.
    (So this is a tough crowd. I shall have to be much more careful.)

  10. On a more conciliatory note, I’d be interested in confirmation of or objection to an assertion I recall being made by an car industry marketer some years ago (identity forgotten). He stated that the main purpose of vehicle advertising was post-purchase reassurance. If that were true, it place this whole discussion in a very different light.

  11. I think advertising is an incredibly hard thing to judge past the subjectiveness of ‘I like it’ or ‘I don’t like it’. And obviously that’s not much help for an advertiser’s purposes. When it comes to advertising I remember being told that the key things are the offer, the timing and the audience, the idea or creative is only responsible for about 10% of the effectiveness.
    If we agree that we need an honest business appraisel of the ad then we need to look at the client’s brief for the campaign and see what their objective was.
    In this case it was to grow sales to 100k by the end of 2005 from 67k in 2002. We do know that Honda sales, by March 2004, had reached 86k a 28% increase but I think we probably need the UK data for end of 2005 to give a fair appraisal. It seems unfair to rely on European regional data. And using different countries as a control cell is a pretty dangerous game if you ask me.
    It would be nice to see how Honda performed against the likes of Nissan and Toyota during this period and what the share of voice was, new model entrants and share of market changed.
    I vaguely remember from my days on Nissan that all three Japanese brands had similar awareness. However, consideration and then purchase for Honda and Toyota was vastly higher.
    Just a final thought. We tend to overplay the power of advertising – if an established brand and it’s products are in a bad way there’s only so much advertsing can do. By the same token if an established brand and its products are in great shape, once again there is only so much advertising can do. Surely its also a case of diminishing returns. For a large brand like Honda with high awareness and consideration, advertising can only do so much. For a smaller brand like G-wizz a TV campaign would make a massive differnece to sales.

  12. I agree with most of what you have said and I really like the adverts and suspect they probably did some good.
    But I’d love to see some proof.
    The data for FY04-06 says something along the lines of:
    UK +20
    Rest of europe +30
    Asia +60
    Rest of world +50
    Clearly they launched some amazing/better new models to get this sort of instant growth (or did something eg with pricing).
    I cant understand why that says the UK advertising (despite being the most awarded campaign in the world) actually worked. Nor why the main evidence that one regions’ marketing was better than others’ wouldnt be comparing sales in the regions.
    Looking forward to some real/insider data anyway :J

  13. I’m going on holiday to the Gower and letting you lot fight this one out. By christ I hope Stuart shows up soom. In the words of Scott’s last diary entry “look after our people”.

  14. The headline Honda stat is that sales in 2005 were up 55% vs 2000. The rest of the UK car market was up 10%.
    The 100,000 target has been reached.
    (Stuart’s paper did cover off European comparisons, but I’m not sure if the data that John is referring to undermines that original analysis or not.)
    I suspect that consideration and all that other stuff has gone up accordingly but don’t know for sure. I’d be amazed though if the advertising has not driven perceptual change of Honda. Whether people are now clearer on the ‘power of dreams’ I don’t know, but my guess is that the values that lie behind the power of dreams philosophy (optimism, innovation, passion etc) are now more naturally associated with Honda thanks to the ads.
    Almost 4 million people downloaded the Choir ad – through their own choice. By adopting the approach they have, Honda have been able to achieve success whilst at the same time decreasing their marketing (media) spend.
    And the website is now the second largest car website in the UK, with people actively going there to listen to what Honda have to say.

  15. John D, why exactly can’t a ‘punter’ fall in love with advertising? And how do you know they don’t?
    The other thing that everyone seems to be forgetting here is that it’s not just W&K’s responsibility to meet the objectives for the campaign (and I think objectives are where we should start on this one before trying to second guess whether the campaign was a success or not), but it’s also Honda’s responsibility.

  16. Paul C: Fair point – I’m sure some could fall in love with advertising but people tend to talk about things they love and I find that in non-advertising circles, the pubs etc are not filled with people discussing campaigns.

  17. On the whole I think you’re right, but sometimes advertising is loveable. And if you’re using the discussion that happens in pubs as a measure of what’s lovable then some of the Honda work definitely meets this criteria (though that might just be in the pubs I frequent).

  18. “I think what Honda and W+K have done is extraordinary.”
    I agree that those are about as good as TV ads get creatively. Strategically and in media terms I am not sure, but that’s just a subjective view. There are good ad and brand tracking results, millions of downloads… and about 8000 or so extra cars sold a year (+10% growth pa).
    My question was; why is Honda growing faster in the rest of Europe/Asia/rest of the world (bar Japan/USA)? There could be really good reasons like exports to China or new dealership networks. I just dont know.
    These are supposed to be the best TV ads in the world. If there is “only so much that advertising can do”, wouldnt that be a worry for the agencies? That is I think why Richard & others wanted this thread; as a “TV ads are still great” forum.
    Anyway – what was I thinking? I might as well log on at the vatican and question bits of the new testament. I had probably just better fade out of this thread….
    ps SUV Driver (email ‘’) if you are so macho why hide behind anonymity? It’s fine to insult people in blogs but it’s quite dull if you arent open to counter attack.

  19. But John, isn’t the important question what the objectives were for Honda in the UK? Surely that is the brief W&K was asked to meet (I’m assuming it was a UK only brief).
    To compare with other European countries is an interesting and instructive question but not necessarily a fair measure, and possibly completely irrelevant in concluding whether the UK work was ‘successful’.
    I’d prefer it if you didn’t ‘fade out of this thread’ as your creating real debate as opposed to 30 comments all saying how wonderful the Honda campaign is. I, for one, find that quite invigorating.

  20. These are the comments of someone outside the glorious circles of agency/planning life (in the traditional sense). I used to play ball, now I don’t. So I’m what you lot would probably call a consumer. So the consumer says hi to all of you lot.
    I’d like to give you some feedback on the Honda ad. First off, my take. I liked the ad, thought it was well made and funny. Nice song. Didn’t consider (not for one moment) buying a Honda after watching it. If Toyota had done it I wouldn’t have bought a one of their boxes either (sorry Mr. Grant). If the ad had been for a bag of crisps I may have bought a packet. Because crisps are cheap.
    Now my daughters on the other hand want me to buy a Honda. Because they think you get added bunnies and rainbows and things. Daddy says no. Because it’s a Honda. My kids want to watch the ads again, and again. It’s like Teletubbies for them.
    I don’t want to insult anybody but that pretty much seems to sum up the discussion going on here. Creatives think the Honda ad is good because they are lovely and have added bunnies. John G (and if those figures are correct) the consumers weren’t moved to go and actually buy a Honda. Maybe a more suitable campaign for Honda would be “buy a Honda, your neighbour won’t have one”.

  21. John, I think you’ve added a great deal to this argument. I certainly don’t subscribe to the ‘TV ads are still great’ mantra and I think you’ve provided a compelling argument as to why we should take ‘advertising success’ with a pinch of salt.

  22. I don’t think anyone was citing this in support of TV advertising. As Russell pointed out, TV was really quite a small part of the proceedings.

  23. Previous comments on this topic:
    While much of the Honda work is very big overblown creative work; I think the thinking behind both “The Power of Dreams” and “Hate Something Change Something” is worthy of this section.
    But you have to bear in mind the state that the Honda brand was in throughout the UK before W+K started their work.
    It was a brand mostly bought by old people, it (as far as I have ever seen/read) completely lacked any character or style, and was almost seen as a non-choice by most under 50 year olds.
    There is no way you could say that is the case now. If Neil’s figures are correct (and I have no doubt they are) then a 45% above the average growth in 5 years on less spend than their main rivals is undeniable proof that it has worked. Whether this caught Honda up or put them ahead doesnt really matter; in terms of (the likely) objectives its clearly been a success.
    I dont think you could say they are for the wrong brand. The whole planning behind the campaign was specifically created by looking at the brand and what it stood for. It may not match your perception of the brand, but that of course is the problem Honda had. Their brand image didntmatch their brand character, and now it mostly does.
    Its also very difficult to compare cross continent car sales, as they are different markets with different needs. Its a useful figure to have, but too uncertain in my book at least.

  24. I agree with Henry that this is a debate worth continuing. One of my earlier comments questioned the rigour of the maths behind many award submission documents and now that I have actually read the IPA paper, there are some obvious observations to make.
    1) The use of the downward trend as a comparator is only valid if it is accurate reflection of what happened in the past – the pre-variable trend should ideally be established over a longer period than the forward prediction. But in this case it is extended forward over a similar period of time than the data points from which it is extrapolated. That’s arguably disingenuous.
    2) Similarly, the extrapolation of the downward sales trend of pre-campaign sales seems to have been done from a very short period of less than two years during which the trend was conveniently downwards. Had earlier years been included the downward slope might well have been shallower and the growth in sales attributed to the campaign somewhat smaller.
    3) More importantly, the comparison is only valid, as others have suggested, if nothing else changes, i.e. campaign starts and sales rise. The introduction of new models is not a minor factor and must have had a large impact – don’t buyers traditionally delay purchase in anticipation of new models? To ascribe the sales hike to the campaign implies that the new models would have sold on the declining trend if the campaign had not happened. It would be a brave company that launched new products without a big campaign, but I’m fairly sure they would still see a rise in sales. All this reduces the element of sales that can be claimed for the campaign.
    4) False assumptions are rife in many justifications and here there are a couple I would question. The work of the dealerships is discounted as a factor because the number of dealers did not rise in the period. The underlying assumption is that more dealers equals better dealers. But perhaps the dealer organisation operated more efficiently during this period (new management, different incentives, who knows?) – and of course the arrival of new models would spur enthusiasm.
    5) On a pure maths point – a “link” between campaign and sales does not indicate causality. I’m not questioning that there is a causal effect of course but too many papers say A rises at same time as B rises, therefore A is causing B to rise (this was the case in the Sainsbury’s paper on which I commented before).
    6) As has been said before, European nations are not great control cases just because they didn’t run the campaign. Now there isn’t a legitimate control case in reality and so it’s arguable that you have to use some approximation, but if you use an approximation you must acknowledge that it is only approximate and not claim the whole sales differential that you reveal.
    None of this questions the creativity involved or the execution but I side with John Grant in questioning the overall impact. Bottom line – the increased sales claim attributed to the campaign is over-stated, possibly by quite a magnitude.

  25. Well, what a lot of fun you’ve all been having.
    I’m the Stuart Smith that Richard mentioned. I’ve come to this quite late – and I’m sorry that I won’t have time now to answer all of the questions raised, but here’s a topline.
    They’re just ads.
    They’ve done a job, sure, but they’re just ads. Certainly not perfect, certainly not all-conquering, certainly not a model for others to follow (strategically or creatively) and certainly not culturally influential.
    Culturally interesting, to a small group of people, perhaps, but culturally influential? Hardly.
    Just ads.
    Seeing the new Honda Civic on the street will have far more positive impact on attitudes to the Honda brand, than a few bits of TV interruption. Even with nice songs and cute rabbits.
    The way the dealer talks to a potential customer, what the fleet manager tells the staff, what your friend’s friend says about the boot space. These all have a bigger impact on brand perception than the ads we’ve done.
    And yet, these are pretty good ads, I firmly believe. You know… for ads. But I agree with whoever it was that said that some things need to evolve. Absolutely right. Others have copied, which is flattering, but even if that weren’t the case, things would need to move on – in terms of media strategy, creative strategy, everything.
    Though just on that media thing, there is one thing that’s worth remembering with car advertising. Dealers. They’re a big, big part of why traditional media channels have been used. Honda have data that proves how effective the communications have been at building their pride and confidence in Honda.
    And they also have similar evidence of the campaign’s effectiveness with existing Honda owners. And the metrics are all good with potential customers too, in terms of purchase consideration, familiarity and all of that. Plus, the web data is amazing (in terms of during campaign visits and time spent at the site).
    The sales uplift is great and initial objectives have been met (though there are now newer tougher ones). As John Grant mentioned, the business is doing well outside the UK too, and there are many reasons for that. Such as starting from a much lower base in China and most other European markets (Scandanavia has come from nowhere to be quite strong now), plus there has been a different set of new model launches in markets outside of Europe. How good is that Honda Element in The States?
    There’s one thing that reassures me most, though, that the communications have done a good job. That is Honda’s reaction. Honda are incredibly smart, business-focused, data-rich, rigorous, clever and determined folk. It’s not all people sitting round with balloons coming out of their ears. Of anyone I’ve ever worked with, Honda know how to maximize value-for-money from something. And they’re confident about, and proud of, what we’ve helped contribute to their achievements.
    But they’re not kidding themselves, and nor are we. A brand like Honda is the sum of many many more parts than a few ads. We believe in the evidence at our disposal about what those ads have done, but are realistic enough to know that that’s only a small part of the story. And will be an even smaller part of the future story.
    I’m with Henry – advertising can only do so much. For me, the more interesting question is:
    What’s next?

  26. Re: John:
    2. Thats very true, though I dont think it hasmuch of a negative effect on the ‘success’ of this particular campaign.
    3. Considering the biggest Honda car was launched alongside the Choir ad; this means that any growth in Civic sales prior to this was also against the oncoming burden of a new model!
    4. Again, the new Civic did not arrive until late 2005. You also seem to be missing out on the positive effect the campaign wouldhave had on dealers. A good brand strategy can help unite and inspire employees; and it is my opinion that the Power of Dreams strategy has done this.
    5. Agreed. But I would say the other stats prove a strong (if not total) link for this campaign.
    I think that it would be wrong to praise the campaign on just sales figures. I agree that they are not all attributable to the campaign. But the huge direct and indirect branding improvements are also down to the campaign. They have literally changed the whole image of the brand in a few years on a small (comparative) budget.
    I remember one of the big criticisms of Cog was that it was just for a Honda… But thats not what people say now. Tat to me says a lot about the success of the campaign in brand terms.

  27. Well, hurray for Stuart.
    He’s managed to a) make lots of sense and b) make us look a little silly. And his ‘top line’ has probably tied things up in as conclusive an answer as we’re likely to get.
    More than anything about the success or not of Honda’s campaigns, this whole oddly febrile flurry has made me realise some other stuff.
    That it’s easy to start having very plannery conversations (in this particular context, on a planner’s blog) about stuff and forget how this will come across to non planners. That if you do forget this, it’s also very possible to slip from trying to be interesting and relevant, to what can be reasonably construed as empty hyperbole/bollocks/etc etc.
    Which I’m counting as good lessons.
    My planner socks are up and I’m moving on.

  28. Thats very true about plannery conversations; and I suppose that one ofthe good things about this Advocate idea. It gets us looking at the actual effectiveness and public perception of the planning we like.

  29. Fabulous debate – brilliant. One thing however that might be worth considering in the context of what constitutes success could be Stephen King’s view that that the role of advertising is not necessarily to create sales per se – it is to create saleability – which it could equally be argued that this is exactly what the advertising has done.

  30. Oh no no No Stuart!
    I’m not having that, an outbreak of humble reason from the planner.
    Very considered, very well observed it might be and I have to say I agree with the observation that they’re ‘just ads’ etc.
    But you are trying to have your cake and not eat it … it just doesn’t measure up to what you have said elsewhere.
    This reasonable humble (and right) response is in contrast with the corporate bravado of your web-site (which may well not be your fault but …)
    I’ll quote (contradictions and repetitions are all genuine).
    “Since we started working with Honda sales are up 30% in a flat market. Consideration for Honda for the next car is up from 12% in 2002 to 30% in 2005. Ad awareness is ahead of VW and Toyota on a fraction of their spend.
    Since we started working with Honda in 2002 (what again?!..) their sales are up 55% (…almost doubled in the space of one paragraph?). The Honda case study won 2 golds at the IPA effectiveness awards in 2004. Ad awareness is ahead of rivals VW and Toyota on a fraction of their spend. Consideration for Honda is up from 12% in 2002 to 26% in 2006. (…and here’s the clincher…) The campaign has delivered over £400m in incremental sales revenue….”
    No mention of ‘they’re just ads lads’.
    So did it or didn’t it?
    (PS for the record I love the ads, and so do my kids, whether they worked or not… I just hope they did)

  31. Actually thats a good point.
    My little brother (16) loves the ads, he even downloaded the music to grr.
    I bet when he goes to buy his first car, the first brand he thinks of will be Honda.

  32. Oh yes yes yes Jemster (if indeed that is your real name).
    Those facts are true (no contradiction, just time & reference points have got confused there).
    And why on earth would you expect a planner’s tone to be the same as that on a company website? Have you never met one of our nihilistic breed before?
    Just ads. Ones that worked, but still just ads. I don’t have to deify them. Others are paid to do that. Team game.

  33. sorry stuart, but I’m not asking you to deify them but to defend them.
    I think John has raised a few interesting points and I think John Dodds has also (though I think it would be wrong to single out the Honda Paper, there are worse culprits). And I think they’re worth answering.
    I did infact like and agree with your response, sure there are more important factors for Honda’s success, who would disagree with that? … but equally I think you avoided, quite neatly, the point.
    (As for the corporate website, shame on you to allow your words to be twisted so ;) but I do understand that most planners are too pleasant to bother with that game…. unless that is you stand by the £400m claim?)
    please take this for what it is, a provocation nothing else

  34. Feel I’m getting involved after the dust has settled but anyhow. My job is born out of media and I have used Honda loads of times as an example of some of the more forward thinking ideas about the future of communications – and have had to argue violently about it for my trouble as if the Honda example is anything its not a media one.
    Broadly speaking positive results seem to come easily to those who look hard for them (in my experience anyway) so I don’t think this issue will ever be resolved. Perhaps another example that seems almost identical would be the Sony Bravia campaign which (if the results I have heard are true) was a total a resounding sales success story in a market truly defined by parity. In other words I tend to take the view that Grrr, the Cog and Bravia probably did their job well. And so if it works we need to understand it – we have to find a place for it in some kind of model, there has to be an explanation!!
    Having said that I will not be using them again as examples because the point that I was trying to make was always lost as in investigation into why they might work. Instead the media people see it as creative agency fluff and the old world in action, whereas and the client and the creative agency (in this case,) see it as a last great hope for making/for starting with, big and beautiful tvc’s – that engagement means we just need to make the advertising more impressive and entertaining. I don’t have a lot of time for either assessment but I do think that the supporting posts on this have not really done much to say why they think the ads worked outside of looking nice. Like that all the stuff about consumers being wiser and wilier is wrong and people really do believe advertising as long as it is really good??? I don’t think so. If the Cog, Grrr or more likely Bravia did really work I think the right argument is about the way they behave. Content is seen as a futuristic idea about brands but why should this be? Why would a new James Bond Movie mean people sign up for the Navy as they do? Instead of telling us that a TV has great resolution, if you were to actually do something to create an experience of colour like we have never seen it before – or to make us love a diesel engine we would have to experience what is tantamount to a warm singalong children’s story about diesel engines. I actually think these examples behave like content or even like events (as seen in the way many consumers did choose to participate online with Bravia and the Cog) – Things that do have the power to actually cause the change that they want to bring about rather than telling us that a product is cool or fit into a lifestyle. Things of substance that trigger our imagination which is actually how any kind of change in our understanding happens.
    Is the future about big lovely TV ads?? Sorry but NO.
    Is the future about content, experiences, and other things of substance?? – YES.
    Does the current Honda work count as this – I suspect it might but don’t get the wrong impression!!
    Cheers, David H

  35. I certainly think it does.
    The huge downloading of the choir ad was a first. While the web continuation of Grr including the mp3 download and games was a great content experience alongside the ad.
    The ads worked (as far as I can see) because the creative and nice looking aspects of the ad involved people; while the underlying brand message “the power of dreams” and the individual ad messages “isnt it nice when things work” / “can hate be good” / “whoosh!”(to a lesser extent) got the ad message across well.
    To quote Bill Bernbach: “Let us prove to the world that good taste, good art, and good writing can be good selling.” ..and in this case…

  36. Hawksworth,
    Isn’t that a rather orthodox view of advertising? In reality isn’t your biggest weapon as the media strategist the brand ideas (power of dreams)and creative expressions (name your Honda ad) that you get to optimise and not the budget the client has and your ability to turn it into reach and frequency.
    Great creative work is not “fluffy” it is the media multiplier that allows us all to achieve more for our clients with less money.

  37. Any bright ideas about how to wrap this one up rather than let it fizzle out?
    How do we finally decide whether it has survived the advocate or not?

  38. Hi again… The point I was making was that to a lot of comm.’s people the idea of an ad like Grrr is that yes it looks nice but is it really a problem solving communications idea or just a pretty artful ‘brand image building’ ad (I was actually defending it against that view if you noticed.) Was not sure I really got what you were saying about reach and frequency and the like but I have no interest in optimising ads and am more interested in holistic solutions that change things, the future of engagement etc… I think Grrr does this but the tension that it seems to create hangs on the wrong debate i.e. whether or not big beautiful TVC’s have an enduring future or not.

  39. it’s not necessarily a bright idea (could create a storm of further controversy over methodology) but it’s the obvious answer to your question…
    a vote?
    It might be worth defining what the vote is saying exactly; for instance Stuart’s account of it being a ‘good enough’ ad which did a job (but was ‘a small part of the story’) is different than the original claim it might be ‘extraordinary’?

  40. Such common sense from Grant.
    I would agree with the redefinition. IF the vote was were Honda ‘good enough’, as Stu seemed to be saying then I would agree wholeheartedly (and while I can’t speak for John, I’m guessing he would too).
    If the vote was for ‘extraordinary’, I wouldn’t.
    If the vote was for ‘did they work’… maybe.
    Here’s my ‘for why’….
    The campaign was ‘extraordinary’ creatively no doubt about that, were they extraordinary strategically? Maybe. I’ve seen campaigns about the hopes and dreams of brands before, what made this strategy great was the translation made by planning to allow creativity to take off.
    Great planning, fantastic even, great job… but not extraordinary.
    So in terms of some of the more outrageous claims -NOT made by anyone at W&K I’d add before Stu gets grumpy with me- about saving the future of strategy/planning etc, I’d vote no.
    And seeing as we’re all quoting Bill Bernbach he had a thing about ‘relevant distinctiveness’. His point being that to cut through engage make contact and motivate you had to say something relevant, and say it in a distinctive way. No one would disagree with that.
    Honda was distinctive no doubt; the strategy is highly distinctive as well as the creativity, full marks.
    Was it relevant? As a piece of corporate advertising it’s impressive (but was that the brief?) however I’m not sure how it addressed the hopes, fears, desires and motivations of someone wanting to buy a car. Is the ‘power of dreams’ going to transform peoples motivation to shell out cash to buy a Honda? Personally I wouldn’t think it has much effect at what dealers would call ‘the sharp end’.
    Guinness used to have a problem with people ‘drinking the advertising’. That the ads for the brand were widely admired, loved even, but they still wouldn’t drink the stuff. I wonder if consumers are ‘drinking’ the Honda advertising.
    And while I buy the argument that the campaign has motivated dealers (and that is no small achievement) I would suspect that they were more motivated by a fantastic piece of automotive design sitting in their showroom or on the street and the number of punters coming through their door to look at it.
    But what about the results you say?
    Well they are impressive but not extraordinary.
    Without anyone noticing Lexus are currently running at around +50% year on year on the back of their new launches (which puts things into perspective), backed by advertising that is not as astounding as Honda, but arguably more relevant to the consumer.
    Even the Corolla ‘Car to be proud of’ campaign yielded something like 20% year on year while selling the car at a premium to the golf. Unlike the Civic, Corolla is a pretty ordinary product and the coherent campaign was relevant, impressive, and coherent (but never labelled as the future of advertising).
    (I have no vested interest here, I work on neither piece of business)
    So setting the impressive results in that context, and taking onboard John’s analysis at the top of the thread. Good but not extraordinary.
    Stu is making the point they’re just ads, and other factors are far more important, I’d agree.
    IF this is what we’re voting for you’d get mine.

  41. Nice points about the other car brands. Thanks.
    While I certainly agree that much of the campaign has not been aimed at the buyer’s hopes and desires; I certainly think they will have removed some of the negative thoughts about the brand.
    Your point about the dealers is right, but bear in mind that the only big new car in the time of the campaign came out only recently.
    If the question is about whether the ads have saved the future of strategy and planning then I would also say no. I think they are great examples of taking good well researched branding, and combining it with a good piece of planning. But the real area in which I think the ads have been near revolutionary is in using the planning to create such a creative piece of work. And that is down not only to W+K, but to Honda for being brave enough to do what most brands would shy away from.
    The planning isnt a model, the creative isnt a model, but the way the planning, creative and client worked together to create something bold and brave should be.

  42. Very interesting debate – great brain exercise for someone looking to get into the industry and training my thought process.
    One small thing to mention before I cast my vote – Cog. Surprised it hasn’t been mentioned as this is the ad the that repositioned Honda for me, but most importantly my male ‘top gear’ type friends.
    So for what it’s worth Honda would get my vote in the first Advocate for the following reasons.
    W&K have taken the ‘Power of Dreams’ and run with it. They have created a diverse spectrum of quality ads that have challenged perceptions but with the propostion underlying them all.
    I also believe that what W& K have done for Honda has freed up clients to buy into more challenging work which is good for us all.
    One issue though – Honda has been so successful it has perhaps led to the model trying to be applied to briefs where it doesn’t so comfortably sit. I’m one of W&K clients who can’t afford to make a 10 minute film for the web in support of our 30 second ads but it is always pitched because ‘ Honda does it’

  43. I had a funny idea: why dont I try to ‘prove’ to you that the Honda UK advertising was extraordinarily successful?
    (I think this strand should be renamed ‘devils advocate’)
    I think the argument would go as follows;
    1. the car market is very change resistant for four reasons; long purchase cycles (4+ years), cognitive dissonance (current owners being indifferent to any communications that dont confirm their current choice), loyalty (60% buy the same model again), historical sales bias (the huge second hand market which feeds the new new car market with loyal buyers and also determines what you see on the road/regard as ‘normal’). Prof Ehrenberg concluded his classic study of the car market with “there are no strong and weak brands, only large and small ones”
    2. over a longer run all marques introduce new models and the efffect of this in any one year (being more ‘in the news’) evens out. Only “star’ models of the sorts which win awards make any lasting difference. Honda has one of these in the new Civic, but it wasnt released until 2006. In the period 2001-05 a quick google revelaed no major star models (ie UK awards)
    3. Because of the long purchase cycle (and 60% loyalty and indifference), a gain in share one year will not be carried over into the next year (not until the increased base of buyers come to rebuy – in Honda owners case I bet their cycle is longer than most, but lets say at least 4 years). If you had a great ad which produced 10% higher consideration and purchasing in 2001, in 2002 your natural base of sales would not start 10% higher. You would be starting from scratch. So the data showing jumps of 10% a year are really showing jumps of 10%, then 20%, then 30%.
    4. only if you had a cumulatively effective campaign that actually did cut through indifference and persuade more owners of other cars to put the brand on their shopping list, because it permanently changed the image of the marque, would the gains would be sustained. this would be an extraordinary achievement there are no other known examples (eg effectiveness awards) for doing this except in the case of Skoda and arguably here it was a case of VW changing the brand, not just adverts.
    5. The way to measure effectiveness is to look at the increase across a purchasing cohort of say 4 years; in this time people will not on average have repeat purchased and there is time to shift brand perceptions (most reckon 3 years+); you should look at the overall sales increase, and also the consideration scores.
    In Honda’s case these are +55% and +100% (very roughly)
    You need to show that no other gradual factor could account for the same phenomenon; eg the pricing relative to main competitors (exchange rates), the number of dealer outlets etc. But it is much easy to eliminate most other causes like new star models or competitors having a crisis because they would produce step changes in fortunes, not gradually rising sales. Only changing the consideration pool can do this.
    Data from other markets show that Honda is also doing very well in some regions with new dealer networks (Sweden, China) and is flat within mature markets (Japan/USA). But there are no cases (I assume) where it is established but weak (as in the UK) and has grown substantially.
    Therefore this is an extraordinary success.
    (Dunno if this account changes my vote, but I thought it would be fascinating to try arguing it other way).
    Coherent, but never consistent

  44. I am not sure this will ever be resolved as there are too many variables and too little agreed upon empirical data to suggest that it worked on every level. I think that it would not be a good idea to delve too deeply – you either like it or you don’t, either you believe it worked or you don’t for whatever subjective reasons. The debate could have ended with Stuart’s ‘They are just ads’.
    If they sold more cars/created more consideration/generated more PR/created greater brand equity/improved the share price/created more debate amongst planners for hours and have attributed it all/in part to the advertising/strategy/idea/execution/rabbits/whatever – superb! It worked on ‘some’ level(s).
    A thought: imagine what the world would be like if there was a formula for producing ‘work that worked’ on every subjective level? Impossible of course. This reminds me of a quote from the wonderful Douglas Adams which sums the circular nature of these discussions:
    ‘There is a theory which states that if ever anybody discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.’

  45. Is it possible this debate has fallen into the classic trap of creativity vs. effectiveness argument?
    While we can endlessly debate likeability, talkability and the media multipier effect surely the most important measure is whether it has positively changed people’s views of Honda?

  46. Should we even have that argument though? Its clear that the ads are both creative AND effective; whether or not you believe that effectiveness to be good or great.

  47. I thought I’d dip a toe in the water here having hesitated while the debate raged. I have the embarassment of having been the planner on the business during some of the infamous CDP days. It’s time we broadened out the debate from the narrow one on creativity vs effectiveness. For what it’s worth sales of Hondas during the CDP tenure went up by nearly 80% between 1994 and 2000. Which doesn’t prove anything.
    The issue I think we ought to be debating is the commercial value of famous advertising which is seen and remembered by millions of people who don’t buy new cars (including by the way members of advertising juries). I love the W&K campaign, so there’s no sour grapes here (no chardonnay just chagrin ;-)). But it is perfectly possible to produce average creative work which does a job with the one in five adults who actually forks out for a new set of wheels. I believe advertising survives because even the indifferent work does something. Like failing GCSEs, advertising that does nothing or even depresses sales is rare indeed.
    What you have to show is the effect of creative advertising on the new car buyers themselves in terms of perhaps paying more for the same car (because I’m worth it) or basking in the reflected glow of driving a car with advertising everyone talks about or which everyone else aspires to drive. Why create brands which have currency with mass audiences who can’t afford to buy them – brilliant for the advertising industry but what is the commercial value to the advertiser?
    I think one answer lies what needs doing to transition to grow through different bands of market share. There’s a lot of brands clustering at the 1-4% mark. What is more tricky is how to break through this barrier. THe middle ground 5-10% is a killer because the business model of the market leaders at 10-15% is fundamentally different. It depends on attracting lots of prospects, qualifying them ferociously and converting a handful. If you get it wrong you can lose a lot of money. I think this campaign is helping Honda into the dangerous middle ground.
    The figure that is so hard to shift is spontaneous brand awareness. If the W&K campaign has tipped that one disproportionately to Honda’s market share say in excess of 3:1 then the advertising has really done something. Consideration as John Grant pointed out takes years to shift because of the length of the purchase cycle. Advertising awareness and likeability figures well – I have to say I’m a sceptic.
    The challenge with creative advertising is showing that the value of the currency it creates especially if it is the kind that doesn’t travel through a till.

  48. JohnG is John Griffiths btw, in case anyone is confused :)
    He’s right about the middle ground, it is tricky. One factor is above a certain brand share you stop promoting the marque and start promoting/advertising the models as individual brands. Dunno if that is because you have to cover more segments to get big, or if it is some general ‘law’, but you can see how it would up the marketing costs for a start.
    Anyway, Richard, I would advise another holiday,
    “they just wouldnt let it lie”
    At least your blog stats will look good and if you ever pitch for a car account you’ll have good archivage!

  49. It strikes me that this debate is worth having because it hits a gap in the awards market if nothing else.
    The creative awards do not adress strategy, the APG awards don’t address effectiveness (though I guess it is a factor) and the IPA awards don’t address the work (the effies don’t even consider it!).
    While the Gunn report says ‘hey great creative work kind of wins lots of effectiveness stuff’nothing sets out to show that great work is more effective, that an idea has commercail value.
    Which is all rather strange given that a whole industry is built on these foundations.
    Why has this not happened? Is it too difficult (probably not) or are we in denial?

  50. I think you are right old chap. The whole point of this endevour is not to find out which piece of work is the most effective but whether the work we like did some good out there.

  51. I agree, I just think it’s ironic that between them the ‘established awards’ don’t cover it (not that a strategy cow isn’t worth a lot more than a black pencil).

  52. Looked at in another way, most contemporary brand theory has developed around agencies promoting ‘good ads’ to their clients. For instance the term ‘brand image’ derives from a speech which David Ogilvy gave to the advertising association in 1955. It has always been obvious how direct work works (for instance Radeon, which got booed when it won its IPA effectiveness award). With anything more lateral you need some sort of model. It’s tricky though to form a sort of ‘good ads’ council because i. it is never going to look impartial, being too prone to wishful thinking ii. some great ads dont work because the brand is fucked (levis syndrome; and generally any brand in a vice between cheaper and nichier competitors). I’m obviously not much of an ad bod these days, but when I was one of my hobbies was collecting new ‘roles for advertising’. One I remember was Brazil Telecom asking punter to save their calls for the weekend, so the system didnt get overloaded (would be a lovely strategy for eg public transport, sales days at stores – in fact the IKEA Bristol launch – banning people with beards – was based upon keeping the numbers down too, come to think of it). Could that be some sort of happy medium; after all planners can re-use those whereas they can only applaud an effectiveness case?

  53. Precisely right.
    It would be good to know HOW things are working rather than HOW MUCH things are working. It would be great to see a strategy deployed, a model of how the communication idea works or how we think it works and assessment of play against that model (is it working the way you thought? How well is it working etc…..)
    The other problem is we all want the ‘good ads’ to work, so we have to have a sceptic to keep us honest otherwise we sound like a bunch of creative cheerleaders.
    We need a devils advocate to navigate past wishful thinking and to make sure the thinking/analysis is un-fluffy.
    Don’t expect to be popular.

  54. > Dont expect to be popular
    …but actually I am really fluffy/prone to wishful thinking too
    I believe in advertising
    someone else will have to play DA next time
    I am going to agree, smile, act nice and hope to be liked :J
    (“in opposite land”, as Richard put it)

  55. Mr C,
    One of the new look bovine adjudicators was duly despatched to Mr Smith to place alongside your pencils and lions. He has obviously taken it home to keep for himself.

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