World’s best ads ever #1: the Honda spot that started a chain reaction
We asked our readers to vote for their favorite commercials of all time. Top creatives from the World Creative Rankings and The Drum’s Judges’ Club then ranked the ads. Now, we bring you the definitive 100 best TV and video ads of all time.
‘Isn’t it nice when things just work?” is the closing line in Honda’s now iconic 2003 ad ‘Cog’, a two-minute deep dive into the inner workings of its Accord model that captures the attention of the viewer – even one that knows nothing about cars.
In ‘Cog’, the roll of a transmission bearing triggers the chain reaction, where the sum of the car’s parts click, whirr and crash into place, to eventually form the Accord, which drives away to the opening beats of The Sugarhill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight (not the first ad on this list to feature the track).
Wieden + Kennedy, the brains behind the operation, has said that when Honda approached the agency it was due to the brand’s lack of emotion and meaning in its identity, and that it made “good, reliable products, but the marque was not desirable”.
The agency set about investigating the heritage of the company, which prides itself on the technical expertise and skill that goes into making its machines, and this is where the chain reaction began.
Two Accords where delivered to the agency’s studios, where creative director Matt Gooden and copywriter Ben Walker set about sketching up the sequence to ensure it was even possible.
Although it appears to be shot in one take, it is in fact composed of two hidden takes – due to the length of the sequence, it would have required a larger studio than budget would allow. Allegedly, as the shoot approached, Honda kept updating its requests to the creatives to include particular car parts or features it was keen to demonstrate, such as wipers that switch on automatically when water hits the windscreen.
It eventually took 60 takes over three days to wrap up the shoot, as the team wanted as little as possible to be fixed in post-production. The spot concludes with Garrison Keillor’s voiceover and the iconic strapline.
It only aired a handful of times in April 2003 – although that did include premium spots during major sporting events such as the Brazilian Grand Prix – but the reaction to the spot was instant, winning W+K a hoard of industry awards.
The spot was revived as recently as 2020, during the pandemic, when ITV got viewers involved in recreating five iconic ads from their homes in lockdown. Entrants used household items such as chairs, tables and toilet roll, and food such as tins, eggs and pasta, to recreate the spot – which, like its strapline suggests, just works.