Best of Show

By Ann Cooper

In a repeat performance, W+K/London and Honda are crowned this year's 'Best of Show.'

'Grrr,' Honda's witty and delightful extravaganza from Wieden+Kennedy/London about the wonders of a new diesel engine has wowed judges and swept the boards at this year's award shows, including the One Show, where it won Best of Show. A 90-second paean to the power of hate, which includes bunnies, penguins and seals singing 'Hate Something, Change Something,' this psychedelic animation was inspired by designer Kenichi Nagahiro's hatred of diesel engines. Below, we ask Michael Russoff, one of the creative collaborators on the campaign, and who, along with Sean Thompson and Michael Russell, also composed the endearingly catchy theme tune and did the whistling, what the inspiration was and how they pulled it off.

How long did this take to make and how much did it cost?
'Grrr' took about six months. And cost £604,217.32. The 32p was because the flamingo with the baseball bat got hungry and wanted a sardine during filming. Six months sounds long, but animation time passes differently than Greenwich Mean Time. Once we'd come up with 'Hate Something, Change Something,' we wrote the song and the story boards. Then we walked around the office with guitars singing our hearts out to whoever would listen.

Who worked on what? You don't seem to be a conventional copywriter/art director team.
Creatives have many different talents. They numb them when they enter ad agencies and sit at their desks. It's like they divide up their lives; this is my ad life, this is my secret creative private life. I love music and have written casually for a couple of years, so when we decided to do a song, the obvious thing to do was write one.

I notice that the creatives were all copywriters. What was the importance and role of art direction?
'Grrr' is interesting because it confronts advertising norms. Advertising says there should be two of you, an art-director and a copywriter and you should sit opposite each other for the next 10 years. 'Grrr' says bollocks to that. There can be three of you and you can all be copywriters and you don't have to be together for life. It's time to stop all this art director/copywriter nonsense. We should divide people into those who follow their instincts and take risks and those who sit on their hands. It's more like Honda's 'Grrr,' risked by Michael Russoff, Sean Thompson and Richard Russell. 'Grrr' was made because a lot of people were brave, client, agency, creative directors, account people, producers and animators. Sean has a great eye for detail. Richard bursts with the positive. I like to push the limits of things. And the combination seemed to work.

How did Honda react?
It was a memorable presentation. It's a great thing taking in a guitar. In fact, my advice is, always take in a guitar. Even if you're not presenting a song. People can't help being nice to people with guitars. We sang live as we flipped through our doodled storyboards. When we'd finished, Honda said 'Make it just like you've presented it.' The following five months was about trying to capture the spirit of that presentation. It was pretty much the only direction Honda gave us until we delivered the finished ad. They understood our vision was all in our heads and they encouraged us to make it happen. A truly amazing client.

How did you pick the directors Smith and Foulkes and why?
Choosing a director is an exciting part of the process. Other directors had done some lovely stuff. And then Smith and Foulkes walked in and showed us one frame. It was the shot where four big fish jump out of the water and swallow the diesel engines. There was this amazing landscape full of tightly clipped grass, like it was tended by some head-gardener with an obsessive/compulsive disorder. I remember thinking, yes, that's it, they've got it. It was beautiful, like a childhood memory or a still from your favorite dream. That single still got them the job.

How did you come up with the images and ideas?
It was a world you wanted to see more of. It was like a golf course designed by Liberace. It's interesting to see where the boundaries of taste and style lie. Smith and Foulkes produced a still with an Italianate fountain statue pissing on a passing diesel engine. It didn't feel right. One important reference was a mood tape we'd put together about positive hate. One clip was from the night the Berlin Wall came down. There were people with sledgehammers giving it their all, but they had huge smiles on their faces. We knew that was the kind of joyful hate that our characters needed to capture. We tried different things before narrowing it down to the characters that made it into the ad. There were lots of disappointed animals by the end. It's not easy explaining to a monkey's agent why he's not right for the part. One of the amazing things about Smith & Foulkes is that they don't have a set style. It's incredibly liberating to work with people without fixed moorings, or a style to protect. With 'Grrr,' we felt like we'd jumped off a cliff and had to find our way down safely.

How difficult was this to make?
It's difficult to make animation because for so long you're looking at animatics, blocked landscapes and character stand-ins. You have to know what you want and edit it before you start shooting. It's only in the last two days, the glorious, high-res days, when you see the flamingo wings glitter and the engines, reflections in the water that you can say, this is working. Animation tests the bonds of trust between everyone. It takes a lot of trust to stick with it and not panic.

I understand that this was part of an integrated campaign. Describe the role of the TV spot and how it related to the other elements.
We made an online 'Grrr' game (, where you become one of the rabbits and get to pound the hell out of abandoned shopping trolleys and TVs on the blink and annoyingly loud mobile phones. We made postcards with peel-off 'Hate Something, Change Something' stickers, and wrote a two-minute version of the song that ran on the radio as if the DJ was playing it. We sang karaoke versions on the Web site. We made print ads that told the story of how Honda's Kenichi Nagahiro's hatred of diesel inspired him to produce something new.

What was the initial public reaction when this started running in the U.K.?
'Grrr' had a great response when it broke. Before long, people were whistling it in the street. Most memorably, there was a call from someone who ran a drug rehabilitation clinic. She loved the philosophy of 'Hate Something, Change Something,' and felt it could inspire the group of drug addicts she was working with. Many people think advertising is shallow because there are so many shallow ads out there. 'Grrr' says you can be thoughtful without being worthy. You can say something interesting and be entertaining about it. If people are going to give you a big budget to go and make something, you should be doing something useful with that. You have an opportunity to change the way people think about something.

What's next? What else are you working on?
At the moment, I've got a brief on my desk for a new Honda campaign. I remember after 'Cog' had won all those awards, walking past Ben [Walker] and Matt's [Gooden] desk. Ben had his head in his hands and a new Honda brief on his desk and I remember thinking, 'Poor bastards, how are they going to follow that!' I get the feeling people are giving me the same 'poor-bastard' look at the moment.

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