During one summer working there, I got lost at least once a day, crashed my beloved 2-CV twice and was cautioned by the police after driving the wrong way down a dual carriageway (the last two things being entirely unconnected). All of which tends to trigger a panic attack whenever I hear mention of the town.
So I breathed a sigh of relief when there was no sign of the old Honda "made in Swindon" ad on the DVD that landed on my desk this morning; instead, it was filled with work from the more recent Power of Dreams campaign.
Honda had a bit of an image problem back when the campaign started - an image of dull reliability and functional hatchbacks driven by old ladies.
W&K's challenge was to reposition the brand as human, passionate and exciting - even a little bit mad - making drivers proud to own a Honda.
So first up came "OK factory" (2). I remember watching this for the first time with a sense of seeing something entirely new. Where was the mum squeezing her shopping, luggage, kids and dog into her oh-so-spacious five-door? Where were the dramatic shots of cars driving through burning cornfields? In fact, where was the bloody car? Even now, three years later, "OK factory" comes across as completely fresh, genuine and brave, and perfectly sets the tone for the work that followed.
And what a follow-up. I'm not sure that I have anything to add to the many column inches already devoted to "cog"(3), so I won't try. Eighty-five moving parts, 606 takes and only seven words to perfectly encapsulate the passion for engineering that delivered the new Accord. The crowd that gathers around my desk as I play this is ample evidence of its still mesmerising power. Genius.
Next is "sense", featuring Honda's hybrid IMA engine (4). Through a brilliantly simple series of analogies, it explains exactly how a hybrid engine works without patronising or resorting to scientific jargon - plain-speaking at its finest. It's beautifully shot with a gentle sense of pace and, yet again, not a car in sight.
Time for my favourite Honda ad, "grrr" (1). It's a barking concept - fluffy bunnies, dancing flamingos and a flying diesel engine weave their way through an animated Busby Berkeley wonderland, with an irritatingly catchy song voiced by the ever-present Garrison Keillor. A great idea, beautifully executed, it's mad, it's kitsch and I love it. Especially the bunnies.
"Yume no chikhara" prompted a bizarre conversation with my mum who thought the balloons were condoms (5). And "crazy sensible" could be a bit of a Honda classic (6). Cars that produce water, recycled factories - any ad that features a sewer rat taking a shower in a bathing cap has got to be a good thing.
Honda has changed the language of car advertising. Forget breaking the rules of the category; they've laughed in the face of the idea that a rulebook exists at all, and achieved awards galore. The campaign has also driven real business success for Honda because the brand's desirability has reached previously unimaginable heights. Consumers have been flocking to showrooms, pushing Honda's market share to its highest level to date in spite of an ever-decreasing spend on marketing.
And all of this was achieved without a single mention of Swindon.
1. HONDA DIESEL ENGINE LAUNCH Title: Grrr Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2004 2. HONDA BRAND Title: OK factory Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2002 3. HONDA ACCORD LAUNCH Title: Cog Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2003 4. HONDA CIVIC IMA TECHNOLOGY Title: Sense Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2003 5. HONDA BRAND Title: Yume no chikhara Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2005 6. HONDA BRAND Title: Crazy sensible Agency: Wieden & Kennedy Year: 2005