Close-Up: Can the creative brains behind 'cog' become a galvanising force for BMB?

Ben Walker and Matt Gooden say their exit from W&K frees them up to explore new communication ideas.

It's not so much a cog but a millstone that hangs around the necks of Ben Walker and Matt Gooden, soon to flee Wieden & Kennedy, where they created one of the most famous TV ads of all time, to take joint creative command at Beattie McGuinness Bungay.

Walker's eyes roll heavenwards when asked to tell how the iconic Honda "cog" spot came about.

Not only was there controversy when the artists Fischli & Weiss unsuccessfully tried to sue Honda for plagiarism, claiming similarities to their film The Way Things Go, but it has given them an unfair reputation as "one-hit wonders".

As Neil Christie, W&K's managing director, points out: "When any work comes out of BMB, people will say 'that's great, but it's not as good as "cog", is it?'"

Looking back on "cog" now, Walker says their greatest satisfaction is that some two million people viewed it as a viral before it hit the TV screens and it was representative of the new communication ideas that Trevor Beattie wants the pair to develop further at BMB.

"We love film, but we're also very interested in finding ways of creating content without it being overtly interruptive," Walker explains. "That's massively important to us."

Beattie, whose work for Wonderbra and French Connection was his springboard to creative fame, believes signature campaigns can be sails rather than anchors. "The important thing is not to deny what you've done because a lot of new clients will be attracted by it," he says.

The creative spark between Walker, 39, a copywriter, and his art director partner, Gooden, 40, comes from a collision of opposites. While Walker is vocal and impresses clients with his knowledge of the wider issues confronting them, Gooden is taciturn, often sitting through meetings in silence.

"We're the antithesis of each other," Walker says. "But while we may have different views about work, we never row. If one of us has something in our head that the other can't see, we won't pursue it."

Will Harris, the outgoing Nokia UK marketing director, says: "The great thing about them is that they're unvarnished. You always know where you stand with them. There are no creative tantrums, just the single-minded pursuit of excellence. W&K will miss them - and so will I."

The pair's professional partnership began 20 years ago at Hounslow Borough College. They were unlucky enough to hit the jobs market during the recession but fortunate to be taken on by Giles Keeble, the then Leo Burnett creative chief, where they worked on Kellogg, McDonald's and Mercedes.

"We stayed for six years, which was probably five years too long," Walker admits. "We wanted to go somewhere like HHCL but we weren't good enough. Our book was full of weird ads and people found it hard to get through."

Burnett's high-profile advertisers gave the pair a grounding in TV production until redundancy intervened. "It was fine by us," Walker says. "We were at a dead end."

Indeed, it proved a blessing in disguise by allowing them to join a creative hotshop. A freelance offer from Simons Palmer Denton Clemmow & Johnson turned into a permanent posting.

It was the agency's merger with TBWA that first bought the pair into contact with Beattie, then the TBWA creative chief. "He was quiet and shy and quite different from any other creative director we'd ever worked for," Walker remembers. "Although he was very 'hands-off', you could present him with five ideas and he'd instinctively pick the right one. We liked that way of working."

Nevertheless, TBWA ultimately proved a frustrating experience. Walker says: "It was a fantastic education for us but we went two years with almost none of our stuff running. We felt we were just being offered to clients who might have the balls to run some brave work."

Playing Friday evening football gave Walker his first encounter with Tony Davidson, W&K's joint creative director: "He was a loud-mouthed Mancunian. I really wanted to break his legs."

The atmosphere didn't improve when Davidson and his creative partner, Kim Papworth, inspected their book. "Tony spent most of the time pointing out how bad it was," Walker recalls. "We came away thinking we'd wasted our time. A week later, they offered us a job."

Eight years at W&K has culminated in a painful parting. "The agency will continue doing brilliantly," Walker insists. But in taking charge of BMB's ten creative teams, the pair relish the chance to explore new communication ideas in a fresh environment where they will have an equity stake.

Reporting directly to Beattie, Walker and Gooden see themselves taking BMB even further into the kind of creative innovation that's become its trademark.

"BMB is a young company and that inspires us because we feel there's a lot of stuff that we still need to do," Walker says. "Our hope is that we'll be doing work of our own although perhaps not immediately. What we must first do is galvanise the agency. We share the same ideals as Trevor. He always wants to make a noise, and so do we."

Beattie says: "I want them to bring us to a new position. We have big clients like Carling and McCain who want to try different things."

Above all, Beattie claims, Walker and Gooden "are no prima donnas". This may be just as well since Matt Doman and Ian Heartfield, BMB's star senior team that produced the Cannes Grand Prix-winning "noitulove" for Guinness while at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, might have felt slighted as many thought they would take the senior creative roles.

"It won't be a problem," Beattie insists. "We're well integrated and we'll move forward as a team."


Honda 'cog' (2003) The most awarded commercial of all time was a Heath Robinson contraption constructed from Accord components. "We knew the idea was good," Walker says. "But it was a huge technical undertaking and we had no idea how it would turn out."

Nokia 'somebody else's phone' (2008) The campaign allowed users to imagine they'd found somebody else's phone filled with everything from personal text messages to photos and voicemails. "It wasn't the best produced piece of work we've done but it really excited us," Walker declares.

NatWest 'escape' (1999) Part of a campaign aimed at helping NatWest to shed its dusty and dull image for something more fun and exciting. The animated spot featured characters depicted in the style of aircraft emergency cards. Walker says: "It really stood out."

COI 'preparing for the euro' (1998) One of a series of ads encouraging businesses to prepare for the euro's introduction. It showed a businessman haranguing his staff for not being aware of the implications of the change. The Sun asked: "Is this the most hated man in Britain?"

Accurist 'watch your weight' (1997) A press and poster campaign that drew on the controversy surrounding anorexic-looking models. It featured a skeletal woman wearing an Accurist watch on her upper arm. "We thought it was funny," Walker says. "We love doing things we think people will talk about."