Legend has it that when Russell Davies, Wieden & Kennedy's humble planning director, is asked how the agency keeps coming up with such brilliant ads for Honda, he replies: "luck".
W&K must have a healthy patch of four-leafed clovers growing in its offices, as the people behind "cog" have pulled yet another one out of the hat for Honda.
This year Honda broke the mould for car advertising again and, eschewing the slick, strong image it has developed in campaigns such as "cog" and "IMA", it introduced a brightly coloured, musical wonderland of cute rabbits and dancing flamingoes trilling along about hate. And all this to promote the manufacturer's new diesel engine. Only Honda could get away with it.
The animated campaign, called "grrr", was inspired by the real-life story behind the making of Honda's first diesel engine.
Kenichi Nagahiro, Honda's chief engine designer, hated how noisy and dirty diesel engines were. And so, when he was asked to design Honda's first diesel engine, he flatly refused unless he was allowed to start from scratch. Honda bills the result of his efforts as one of the cleanest, most refined diesel engines on the market.
Capturing what W&K calls the "Honda-ism", the unique feature of the car or piece of technology that it wants to illustrate in the advertising, the idea of hate being used as a force for good was developed.
On the back of this, the "hate something, change something" slogan of the campaign was born.
Armed with this and a guitar, the creatives behind the idea, Sean Thompson, Michael Russoff and Richard Russell, set out to sell it to what most would agree is both a progressive and a brave company. Honda's marketing director, Simon Thompson, took the bait.
The writer and radio presenter Garrison Keillor also jumped on the bandwagon and, adding his trademark gruff voice to the ad's folky theme tune, helped to create one of the most hummed songs of the year. The song has generated so much interest that the idea of releasing it as a single is under consideration.
The campaign didn't end with the epic 90-second cinema and TV films and, with media planning from Naked Communications and buying from Starcom Motive, "hate something, change something" was taken into print, radio and interactive TV.
Print ads and sticker postcards were inserted in Sunday supplements and magazines, while interactive elements allowed the real Honda enthusiasts to sing along to the commercial karaoke-style.
In a first for Honda advertising, the "hate something" concept was also adapted into an online game on a campaign microsite. Developed by Unit9 with creative direction from Nexus productions and Wieden & Kennedy, the game has nine levels for players to negotiate, gathering carrots and miraculously making unpleasant things likeable. Honda's main website was also given a "grrr" revamp, offering browsers the option of a free branded drawstring bag, or registering their pet hate and how they plan to turn it into a positive.
Over the past few years W&K's work has been trumpeted by awards juries, picking up gongs galore. However, it has not only impacted on those within the advertising industry. Car drivers have also taken note: since Honda launched its first campaign in 2002, its UK sales have soared by 28 per cent. Communications have generated an extra £388 million in revenue, as well as helping the manufacturer increase its market share from 2.7 per cent to 3.3 per cent. There are currently 14,000 Hondas on order in the UK, up from 5,000 at the same time last year.
The new diesel engine is not yet available in Honda models, so the "grrr" campaign's success cannot yet be measured, but it is an awareness-raising campaign and response figures indicate that it has worked.
The interactive work has also elicited a strong consumer reaction, collecting more than 7,000 names and addresses. Enquiries to the Honda call centre doubled and orders for the "hate something, change something" bag exceeded 20,000. Website traffic has gone up by almost 30 per cent, with 27,000 people downloading either the commercial or the song and 3,000 ordering the ringtone.
The campaign has also seen a huge amount of press interest and, given that the campaign only launched in October, it all bodes well for next year's sales figures.
While Honda scooped the top honour this year, arguably one of the most memorable campaigns of the past 12 months was Euro RSCG London's "artery".
The multimedia campaign used powerful images of globules of fat oozing out of cigarettes to highlight the build-up of fatty deposits caused by smoking.
The campaign aimed to shock people into quitting by highlighting the damage the habit causes, and to drive people to the British Heart Foundation website and a telephone helpline. It worked: the number of visitors to the website rose 80 per cent in the first month.
The message proved equally potent across all channels, from TV, posters and print to direct. It won a silver and a gold in the film and direct categories respectively at Cannes, a gold at the IPA Effectiveness Awards and the top honour at the Campaign Direct Awards.
Ogilvy & Mather's "real women" campaign for Lever Faberge's Dove was also a strong contender in this category. The work, which featured "real" sized women instead of stick-thin models to promote its range of firming creams, has shown that an unconventional approach to advertising beauty products can prove incredibly effective.
Dove's sales have doubled since the launch of the ads, while sales of the firming creams increased by 700 per cent in the UK. Body firming variants, which only launched at the end of 2003, are now selling more than lotion or milk variants and Dove is experiencing its highest-ever market share in body (8.7 per cent) and shower (8.6 per cent) products.
Created by Joerg Herzog and Dennis Lewis and shot by Rankin, the campaign had a primarily outdoor focus and the six curvy ladies were plastered across the country on key poster sites and bus shelters. Bus sides and escalator panels were also used to achieve maximum impact. In October, the work walked away with the Campaign Readers' Award for best poster at the Campaign Poster Awards.
Recent winners: 118 118 (2003); John Smith's (2002); ITV Digital (2001); Skoda (2000); Levi's Sta-Prest (1999).