Dom Sweeney of Innocean UK picks his desert island (car) ads

I’ve always felt that you can tell the state of our industry by the quality of the car ads. There’s a direct correlation between how tough the times are and how samey car clients want their ads. Looking back, you can see great car ads occur in pockets (of time, not trousers). The car commercials of my youth invariably featured slick motors driving along coastal roads, with a big soundtrack and a confident Top Gear style voice over.

VW Volkswagen Polo – Self Defence

Like London buses, you wait forever for a good car ad to come along and then a bunch turn up. There was a time in the late 90’s when VW and DDB, with Jeremy Craigen at the helm, made amazing ad after amazing ad, and I could have picked a favourite five solely from them. Polo Protection and Beetle Smile are still head and shoulders above anything on air today, but the one that influenced me most was the Self Defence ad for Polo.

There have been better VW ads, but this one from Richard Flintham and Andy McLeod, directed by Ringan Ledwidge, made me think differently about what a car commercial could be. Smart and funny, with no need for extended driving footage or a cliched voice over.

Skoda Fabia Advert – Original Cake Car

That same creative team set up Fallon London and instantly used humour to put an end to Skoda being the butt of every joke. My favourite Skoda ad comes from another great team, John Allison and Chris Bovill directed by the always brilliant Chris Palmer. Skoda Cake still gives me the warm and fuzzies. I’m resisting the urge to describe it as ‘sweet’.

Honda “Grrr”

A few years later it was Wieden & Kennedy’s turn to change the car-ad-game. Search online for the Honda Book of Dreams. It’s that rare thing – a brand book that you actually want to read (the other one is for Skittles, who also make amazing ads. I don’t think it’s a coincidence).

Cog, choir, hands – so many great ads to choose from, but my favourite Honda ad might just be my favourite ad of all time. When Grrr came out 20 years ago the corridors of the agency where I worked echoed with whistling (albeit through the gritted teeth of a dozen extremely jealous creative teams).

Directed by Smith and Foulkes at Nexus studios and created by Sean Thompson, Michael Russoff and Richard Russell, I can confidently say that it’s the best of us. I count myself extremely lucky to have experienced one of the finest and nicest creative directors I’ve ever worked with in Richard Russell. And it still makes me want to whistle.

Audi Clowns

Audi and BBH are another pair who have made some amazing work together. I loved the Quattro Hands ad, but the one I wish I’d done is Audi Clowns. I’ve never quite understood the reluctance to dramatise a negative and this is the perfect riposte to that point of view. It’s also a great argument for putting the product at the centre of the idea and picking one message and sticking to it. Directed by Ringan Ledwidge (again) with creative by Doug Fridlund and Mikael Alcock, it’s just brilliant.

Volkswagen New Beetle

And we end as we began, with VW and DDB. This time it’s a print campaign for the Beetle, by one of the most awarded teams of all time, Adam Tucker and Justin Tindall, shot by the incredibly talented James Day. When your car can be identified by its silhouette you know you’re on to a winner.

Dom Sweeney is head of creative at Innocean UK

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