The Shape Of Things

Can you tell a story using only circles and rectangles? You can if you’re Wieden + Kennedy in London, the agency behind “Cog,” and you have a new car to introduce. It helps, of course, to have a client that is more interested in capturing brand essence than showing 60 seconds of car footage.

In a whimsical $7.5 million (£4 million) campaign for the new Honda FR-V, a family is symbolized by three colorful circles. (The dog is a rectangle). The two bigger circles meet at a train station, where all the commuters are black and grey circles. A baby circle emerges from its parents, and soon the family is riding in their Honda FR-V, which has three seats in the front and three seats in the back. The dog, Syd, rides “in the boot.” A folksy voiceover by author and radio personality Garrison Keillor, the longtime voice of Honda U.K., and the understated animation by David Daniels of Tandem Films create the sense of a real family in what would otherwise look like Tiddlywinks thrown onto a screen.

The 60-second launch spot, “Together,” broke in U.K. cinemas before Christmas. Two 30-second spots, breaking this week, show the family going to a “fun fair” (Brit-speak for an amusement park) and a drive-through restaurant.

Honda has used animation in its advertising before, notably in last year’s lush “Grrr” spot, which showed diesel engines flying through a Fantasia-type landscape, but nothing anywhere near this simplistic. The abstract idea came from a product attribute: The car has room for three in the front seat, so a family can sit together in front. “We sort of came up with the idea of the word ‘togetherness,’ and a good way of showing that is simple color diagrams of circles overlaying each other to create more colors,” says Wieden art director Matt Gooden, who came up with the idea with copywriter Ben Walker.

Once they had the basic idea, they wrote hundreds of scripts last summer about the family and their dog (such as going on a driving holiday or going to the supermarket). But the story of how the family came to be, and how they can all sit in the FR-V together (“Marcia says it’s like a park bench,” the voiceover says), was selected to “set up the whole thing,” Gooden says.

The team had worked with Daniels before, on a NatWest campaign that was spiked, and was eager to do so again. This project seemed the right fit, especially since Daniels has worked with simple geometric shapes in his own art. Daniels created animatics of the spots, and the agency showed the client.

“I never, never imagined they would present that to me,” admits Simon Thompson, Honda Cars marketing director. “But when I first saw it, I understood it instantly. The brief was to show the flexibility and versatility of the car and to do it in a human, engaging way. That’s what it did, and that’s why the advert was approved.”

Honda didn’t mind that the car is shown only briefly at the end (shot live action with motion-control cameras by Blink director Stuart Parr). “In the U.K., our actual advertising philosophy is to show what we are as a company, not necessarily what we make,” Thompson says. “It’s not unusual for Honda U.K. not to show product.”

The creative team worked through the beginning of December to create the three spots, which were done on the Adobe graphics program After Effects. The dog was drawn by hand and imported into the program. The team experimented with textures and tried using other shapes besides circles and rectangles, but in the end, simplicity won out.

“With some jobs you tend to put more and more things on screen,” Daniels says. “[In this case], there isn’t so much on the screen at the end. There’s an awful lot of things on the floor that we’d gotten rid of.”

“It’s interesting to get visuals down to purely circles and squares and still tell a really great story people would be interested in,” says Gooden. “We did things in the street, like lampposts and road markings, but we sort of found we just didn’t need it. It became more rewarding the simpler it was.”