The Very Best of Honda’s TV Campaigns

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Honda has long been at the top of its game with creative advertisements that both entertain and reflect the brand. Here are some of our favorites.

When it comes to Honda’s TV advertisements, they have never relied on repeating the same ingredients. They’ve always plowed their own path and have rarely fallen into cliche. There always seems to be a sense of joy, no matter what market they are putting their adverts in front of. With that in mind, these are our favorites so far.

1. The Impossible Dream

The Impossible Dream is a two-minute long piece aired in the U.K. in early 2005. It features actor Simon Paisley Day leaving his trailer with a helmet and jacket, then singing along to “Impossible Dream” by Andy Williams as he rides his way through a series of vintage Honda vehicles. The vehicles chosen for the advertisement are there to illustrate the dreams of Soichiro Honda and his company. There is also an updated version that drops some more modern Honda vehicles and technology onto the screen.

2. Ninja

Aired in 2012, the advertising campaign for the last generation Honda Civic moved to the opposite of earnest. The advertising agency Honda used, RPA, said the campaign: “Demonstrates the idea that we’re all different and there’s a unique Civic for each of us. Since the target personalizes everything in their lives from social media to fashion, the all-new Civic is positioned to be the latest canvas for personalization.”

The campaign was great and, despite the unenthusiastic reviews, the ninth generation of Civic sold very well, at least once it was refreshed. This was the highlight though. It’s about an adorable ninja with a Civic Si that stops off while on her mission to play video games. The lyrics to the song are a repeat of the line, “I’m a ninja, I’m a hooded ninja,” despite what your ears may suggest. It makes our list because it’s bold, fun, doesn’t take itself seriously, and Ninjas are cool.

3. Grrr

When Honda’s chief engine designer, Kenichi Nagahiro was asked to design the brands first diesel engine he flat-out refused. He had complete disdain for the smell and noise of a diesel powerplant and only relented to head the program on the basis he would be able to build it from scratch. The result of a cleaner, smoother and more efficient compression-based engine gave the motivation for “positive hate” to be translated into this advert and its song.

The advert was part of Honda’s “Power of Dreams” campaign that also featured The Impossible Dream. We love the song, sung in the key of grrr, for being pure ear-worm. The animation is simply gorgeous and holds up well even 14-years later. The advert definitely deserves its accolades and awards, and following the campaign, Honda reported its brand awareness figures had almost doubled and sales figures in the UK had risen 35%.

4. Honda City – Madness

In 1981 Honda introduced the tiny and super-efficient City Car to the Japanese market along with the, now legendary, Motocompo folding motorcycle. To help get the word out, they hired the English ska band Madness for their TV commercials. The song was actually written for the advert, then a non-branded version made it onto the b-side of the Madness single “Cardiac Arrest”. The result is pure 1980s Japanese marketing. It’s over the top, fun, and sticks in your head.

5. Cog

It would be remiss not to include Cog here. It’s not only a fantastic car advertisement, it’s also up there as one of the best TV adverts of all time. It was conceived in 2002 to advertise the 7th generation Honda Accord, and even includes the rain detection system for the windscreen wipers in the sequence. The sequence itself was shot with the absolute minimum of computer enhancement.

They used two sixty-second moving dolly shots and stitched them together in post-production. Shooting the sequence was intense, involving parts being set with a tolerance of just a sixteenth of an inch, and even then they needed 606 takes to get the final footage. It took just tiny variations in humidity, ambient temperature, and even settling dust to throw off the sequence. The end result is a both a masterclass in advertising and a masterpiece in short film.

6. Emoji Horn

It’s not a true TV advert, but Honda’s April Fools Day video from 2017 is comedy gold. It’s the result of a sharp sense of humor not only towards the current state of the car industry and how it’s embracing technology, but also the ability of the brand to poke fun at itself. What really gets us is the effort Honda went into shooting it as an actual TV advert in order to deliver something genuinely fresh and delightfully satirical.

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Ian Wright has been a professional writer for two years and is a regular contributor to Corvette Forum, Jaguar Forum, and 6SpeedOnline, among other auto sites.

His obsession with cars started young and has left him stranded miles off-road in Land Rovers, being lost far from home in hot hatches, going sideways in rallycross cars, being propelled forward in supercars and, more sensibly, standing in fields staring at classic cars. His first job was as a mechanic and then trained as a driving instructor before going into media production.

The automotive itch never left though, and he realized writing about cars is his true calling. However, that doesn’t stop him from also hosting the Both Hand Drive podcast.

Ian can be reached at [email protected]

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