On Creative Inspiration, Car Dealership Commercials, and The Sex Pistols

Our creative team tries to bring a fresh perspective to all the work we do, and we love a good challenge. That’s why car dealership commercials are a special delight of ours. They come with a set of preordained limitations: They usually need to include multiple incentive offers, which can take a good chunk of the spot to explain; they often include a sales event assigned by the manufacturer; they need to get completed quickly; and they have to pass compliance with the car manufacturer. 

“Compliance” is a word that strikes fear into the heart of the car commercial copywriter. If you forget to write the model year in the tiny legal print at the bottom of the screen, even though you wrote it on the giant onscreen copy AND had the voiceover artist say it, you get dinged. If you use the word “deal” for this brand or “special” for that one. If you say “Your mileage may vary” and the manufacturer prefers “Your mileage will vary.” If you say “clearance” without special dispensation, or “discount” with, well, anybody. Ding. Ding. Dingdingdingdingding.

 And yet, in exactly the same way that the strict line and syllable count of a sonnet have inspired countless poets since Shakespeare’s time, the limitations of a dealership commercial form the scaffolding of some of our most creative solutions.

Enter the “Totally Awesome Clearance Event,” a 30-second spot we created in a hurry to fill a two-week rotation. At the time we concepted the spot, we didn’t yet have the incentive details, but we knew they would be some of the best deals—er, prices—of the year because of the spot’s timing in mid-September.

So without any specifics, we started brainstorming. Our main objective for the creative was to make sure the spot stood out from other car commercials—that it “cut through the clutter,” in ad-biz parlance.

Scotty, our motion graphics editor, was inspired by 90s punk art like the Sex Pistols’ tour poster, above. Loud, brash colors. Handwritten text mixed with type. Collage-style cut-out shapes.

Our team loved the look and felt it conveyed a rebellious spirit that Honda could pull off, but we weren’t selling anarchy, in the U.K. or anywhere. We also had the luxury of naming this particular sale ourselves. Designer Sarah suggested “The Totally Awesome Sales Event”—and it stuck. So in the copy, I tempered the message a bit by bringing in the slang many of us used in that long-ago decade. “Rad,” “to the max,” “righteous.” Together, the look and feel of the spot is fresh, exciting, a little bit rebellious, and a lot of fun. 

Our dealer groups responded with enthusiastic feedback, saying that the spot was attention-getting and entertaining. Did they start humming “God Save the Queen” when they saw it? Probably not. But that’s the great thing about creative inspiration. The place where you started is never where you end up.