OPINION: Mills on ... Honda

Ooh er, didn't the curly haired one let all and sundry know how he felt about the contents of his Private View bag last week. I sympathise.

There's not a lot of great stuff to write about; it's much easier to find something you really hate and detox on to the page. Still, when the going gets tough, there's always Honda, back again this week with a new 60-second ad through Wieden & Kennedy to promote its Integrated Motor Assist engine.

It's not "cog - the sequel" and that's fine because "cog" is a one-off, notwithstanding allegations of "referencing" works by Swiss conceptual artists, Swiss bankers or Swiss cheese makers. (What a red herring that was; just look at some of Heath Robinson's famous cartoons and ask yourself where Fischli and Weiss derived their inspiration from. But really, who cares?)

The first thing to say about Honda and W&K is that they are indeed lucky to have each other. W&K to have Honda because here is a client that has some really interesting things to say, and a desire to say them in an interesting way; and vice versa because Honda had the good sense to pick W&K at a point when it had everything to prove.

Ordinarily, ads about engine technology won't feature high on your average consumer's must-watch list. Honda's Integrated Motor Assist film just might (although a more exciting name would help) because, by combining the promise of fuel efficiency with environmental benefits, it catches the current zeitgeist. Obviously, battery-powered cars do that too, but their appeal is limited because you have to recharge them and they're not as powerful. The IMA, however, gives you the benefits of non-petrol engines with none of the disadvantages. It does this by combining a petrol engine with an electric motor which kicks in when it senses full power is not required - rather like the way a PC goes into sleep mode when you step away for five minutes.

But boy, is this a difficult thing to explain, let alone convey in an ad. W&K gets round this problem by a series of analogies. Thus the lights in a station only come on when the train pulls in; a gas ring turns itself down when the cook walks away; a TV powers down when a viewer nods off; and the overhead lights on a motorway go on only as cars pass underneath.

"If things knew when they weren't being used, wouldn't we save a whole load of energy?" Garrison Keillor asks at the end.

There are two points to note: one, there's no car, which is logical enough because it's not about flogging metal; two, there's no mention of engines or anything like that and, apart from the IMA initials and the Honda logo in the endframe, no mention of the company, no grandiose claims. First-time viewers may struggle to work out what's being sold - because nothing is, explicitly, except a concept.

I don't see that as a problem. In the way it leaves us to do some of the work ourselves, it's flattering. Normally, ads selling tomorrow's-world technology rely on men-in-white-coats devices to ram the message home. Who can forget Griff Rhys-Jones as Vauxhall's mad scientist, patronising viewers till we could stand it no more? By contrast, Honda treats us like adults and says: "Look, here's some stuff we've been messing around with.

We think it's interesting. See what you think. Once you've got the idea, we'll tell you some more."

The clever thing though is that, although it's not a sequel to "cog", it absolutely underpins the latter's premise, which is that Honda is all about technology and precision engineering. And in its gentle pace, relaxed understatement and sense of self-confidence, it's very Honda too. Nice.

Dead cert for a Pencil? No, but none the less effective for that.

File under ... I for intriguing.

What would the chairman's wife say? "Cannes. Dan Wieden in the chair.

Cog doesn't win. Explain, please."

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