Iconic Car Ads: Honda – ‘The Cog’

  • Date: April 6, 2003.
  • Brand: Honda
  • Model: Honda Accord
  • Advertising Agency: Weiden & Kennedy London
  • Country: UK
  • Budget: £1 million

So, where better to start than with the ad itself?


Economic background:

In 2002, Honda Motor Company was the number-three Japanese automobile manufacturer in the world behind giants, Toyota and Nissan.

Although it was performing well in its home nation and the United States, sales in UK and Europe were considered poor. Sales had been in decline since 1998.

The problem seemed to be that the brand was perceived as bland and uninspiring. It was also associated too heavily with motorbikes and, because of this, as an unreliable car producer – a real hindrance when competing with the trusted and established manufacturers of Britain and Germany.

A consumer survey conducted by Creative Review revealed that one in four respondents ‘wouldn’t dream of buying a Honda for their next car.’


Creative background:

To combat the decline in public opinion, Weiden & Kennedy London was hired to rebuild the brand and increase sales throughout UK.

The Cog was the pinnacle of a longer campaign known as ‘the Power of Dreams,’ the aim of which was essentially to improve people’s perceptions of the brand’s products and to bring it closer in line with the Japanese tagline, which translates roughly as, ‘Do you believe in the power of dreams?’

There were several other highly successful ads in this series:


The workings of the Cog

The advert is centred around engineering and the mechanical harmony of the vehicle. It demonstrated and celebrated the beauty of its design. The complete vehicle – shown at the end – was the perfect sum of each and every integral ‘cog.’

The process – as is to be expected – was long and arduous. This elaborate Rube Goldberg machine had over 85 separate pieces. The advert was completed after a mind-bending 606 takes. Much of it was through trial and error and a huge amount of experimentation was essential to its success.

Buying airtime for 120 seconds at a time was an expensive affair. The full version of the advert was, surprisingly, only shown 10 times in total. The times were chosen strategically and usually involved important and popular sporting events.

It was aired, during the Brazilian Grand Prix, 2003. This increased its impact among viewers, the majority being motorcar savvy. The slow pace of the advert greatly contrasted with the fast pace and loud noises of the Grand Prix, making it near-impossible for viewers not to be drawn in.

After only 10 days, the full version was set to one side and truncated; thirty-second versions were shown thereafter.

In another highly innovative move, the audience was given the opportunity to watch the full version through the newly available interactive options on Sky Digital TV. A clickable menu, almost reminiscent of computer games from the 90s, allowed you to select a number of options, including ordering a free documentary DVD or a Honda brochure.


The interactive menu which helped ‘The Cog’ to become one of the most talked-about ads of all time


Was it a success?

Over 250,000 people used the interactive options and more than 10,000 people requested a DVD or brochure – an unprecedented achievement in television. This equated to a response of 0.32% – five times the car category average. This was a huge success for such state-of-the-art technology.

The advert was covered widely in the media to universal acclaim, with articles in most broadsheets and tabloids, many highlighting its originality and impact.

With regards to online engagement, the day after the advert was aired, Honda’s UK domain received more hits than at any time previously, and overnight became the second-largest automotive website in the country.

In financial terms, ‘Cog’ was also an unparalleled success for the brand. Sales of Honda products in the UK jumped by a whopping 28%, despite their prices increasing relative to the competition.

Additionally, visits to Honda dealerships rose from an average of 3500 to 3700, with 22% of these ending in a purchase.



The Cog is still mentioned almost without question when discussing iconic adverts. It has spawned myriad imitators and successors.

118 118 – Just Works 

Guiness – Tipping Point

BBC – Local Football Coverage


Campaign, a weekly magazine covering advertising and commerce, in 2008 called it the most-imitated commercial in recent times (along with Balls for the Sony Bravia).

The Cog has received too many awards to even begin listing here and is more celebrated by the television and advertisement industries than any other commercial in history.


Enjoyed this post? Make sure you come back and check out our coverage of other iconic car adverts.

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