Ben Walker On The Spot

The 34-year-old Wieden + Kennedy copywriter was close to landing the Grand Prix at Cannes last year—until rumblings surfaced that the chain reaction in Honda’s “Cog” was derivative of a film by two Swiss artists. This year, Walker and his art director partner, Matt Gooden, have another shot with the Honda spots “Everyday” and “Sense.” The London-based team, who met at a copywriting class 14 years ago, have produced all types of ads: a 1 second spot touting Guinness Book of Records while at Leo Burnett; a depression-awareness booklet for the Charlie Waller Memorial Trust (the work Walker’s most proud of) while at Simons Palmer; and recently, a magazine for Nike.

Q. Many thought “Cog” would take the Grand Prix. Were you disappointed?

A. We were just really happy to win a gold. I don’t know. A couple of people on the jury told me the reason it didn’t win is ’cause they didn’t want to be seen to be awarding something which people in some corners had said we copied.

How do you feel about that accusation?

That annoyed me a little bit. Because we didn’t copy it. The one thing that we always regretted doing, since it all happened, is one bit in the ad where the tires go up the ramp. We copied that from their bloody film, because it was just brilliant. But because of that, we got an awful lot of people saying, “You copied it.” The fact of the matter is, we just wanted to build a chain reaction using parts of the car. We got a huge tape put together of all the chain reactions we had ever seen. And, of course, the first thing that comes up after research is the Fischli-Weiss film [The Way Things Go]. We thought it was incredible—and we took that wheel bit. But that’s all we did. We got ideas about gravity and how you could make the chain carry on by wind power from loads and loads of things. It was a real disappointment to have the artists say [the film was copied]. But the reaction’s been so overwhelmingly positive that I’m not too fussed about it really.

Some think you should have just signed Fischli and Weiss to make the ad for you.

That’s rubbish. We had to make one of the most complicated ads that’s ever been made. We had a four-month time frame to do it in. It just wouldn’t have been professional to do that. We wanted to get someone who was a bloody genius, who understood film and who could capture what we wanted. That’s why we got Antoine Bardou-Jacquet involved.

Did you really need more than 600 takes to get it on film?

There were probably 70 or 80 takes. But the five days of shooting was only a tiny part of the actual making of the ad, because the most important part of it was the three months of testing we had to do beforehand. In those three months, we would imagine that there were about 600 takes.

What would you be doing if you weren’t in advertising?

Blimey. Probably some sort of journalism, ’cause my dad was a journalist. He edited the Star and the Mirror. I’d be trying to do sports journalism. I love sport. That’s my passion.

Would you consider working in the U.S.?

It’s intense here at the moment. We’re still growing, and there’s lots of exciting things happening. But I’ve always fancied New York.

Who has influenced you creatively?

I went to a Vivian Westwood exhibition the other day, and it was absolutely amazing. Those are the sort of people I like: people that do things different. Me and Matt, we’re not interested in making pretty ads and winning awards. We just want to do things that no one else has seen. Sometimes it comes out really badly wrong. And sometimes it comes out right.

When has it come out really wrong?

We’ve got millions of shit ads. We’ve done some howlers for McDonald’s and Kellogg’s. But here at Wieden, all the clients we’ve got are really positive about doing different stuff. I’ve just done a wonderful project for Nike, which was a magazine rather than an ad. It’s all about the magic of football. If you’re a 14- to 21-year-old kid, you’re just going to want to read from the back to front.

Describe yourself in three words.

Fat, stupid and lazy.

How would you describe your partner?

Skinny, stupid and lazy.

What’s your biggest fear?


Besides your own, what’s your vote for the best agency out there?

This sounds awful, but nowhere else excites me at all at the mo. We’re very lucky to work here. I don’t know. Mother?

How do you get past a creative block?


What’s your dream assignment?

Any big, ugly brand that needs to change.

Who’s one person you’re dying to work with?

[Director] Johnny Maginn.

What do you like to do in your free time?

Cooking and QPR [Queens Park Rangers, an English soccer team]. I want to own QPR, but if advertising isn’t that kind to me, I’ll settle for a nice London café which does homemade sausage and egg, or calves liver and bacon in saba [vinegar]. Common-classics-with-a-twist type thing. Nice.