A few years ago I was drafted in to JWT Dussledorf (with my freelance writer hat on) to help them with a new campaign for Mazda they were devising. I would fly out early on a Monday and come back on a Friday night along with an assortment of similarly weary execs.
It was an interesting time in my career, when you’re freelance you go where the work is. And boy, was there work here.
By the end I was there for three months and I grew to like Dusseldorf’s blend of modern Frank Gehry architecture and old town Germanic cobblestones. It reminded me of London in some ways, with a large river flowing through it, old and new side by side, a diverse cosmopolitan vibe and a history of having the crap bombed out of it.
“We want you to crack the new endline” they said “and help out with creating the new campaign”.
“What about ‘Zoom Zoom?'” I replied.
There was some coughing and shoe-gazing.
“Yeah, well we’re not entirely decided on that. But we really need a new endline for our new campaign.”
“What’s the brief?”
“But we don’t want to say defy convention literally…that’s just the brief”
Actually when you start looking in to the history of Mazda cars, it was a good summation of their brand. Speaking of towns that have had the crap bombed out of them, The Mazda factory was based in Hiroshima, (yes that Hiroshima) and due to it’s placement behind a large mountain — after Enola Gay dropped the bomb it was one of the few buildings left standing. The force literally swept around the mountain and the factory was in the safety pocket behind it.
The city’s survivors gathered there and it became a central hub both physically and emotionally for the whole community.
Mazda was at the forefront of the city’s regeneration, they evolved from the production of bikes and motorcycles and by the nineties had developed their unique rotary engine to a point that in 1991, a four-rotor Mazda 787B won the 24 Hours of Le Mans auto race outright.
With the launch of the famous Mx5, Mazda had carved out a nice peice of the ‘exciting motoring’ pie.
They did things defiantly different.
But in terms of advertising all the public knew of it was ‘Zoom Zoom’. A largely meaningless jingle-style international catchphrase that – I suppose if you think about it – had a leaning towards speed, but that was about it.
But of course it had brand equity and trying to prize clients away from something they have spent years investing in is like prizing them out of a favourite pair of bell-bottom jeans.
They’re old fashioned and too tight but at least everyone knows you as the guy in the seventies jeans.
Nevertheless, in a bold attempt to instill some motoring heritage beyond Zoom Zoom, JWT had sold in a series of online films about the cars, the people behind the cars, the culture, the factory, the Mazda brand heritage and even Hiroshima itself.
When I arrived the Creative Director was due to fly to Japan the next day and I was sort of left holding the reins.
The thing about documentary style filming is that broadly you have a rough idea of what will be captured but nothing specific. This would prove interesting when editing because the films were also due to be used as the backbone of a car launch. A thirty second documentary with twenty seconds of car.
And all this without complete local country buy-in.
You can imagine the local marketing bods faces when they were told that the launch of their new model was going to feature inscrutable Japanese car designers talking about sliding doors, not pretty young things looking cool driving on mountain roads to a ‘pop tune’.
These were going to be beautifully shot, elegant works of celuloid art. Suddenly it was partly my job to help sell this route in.
Picture some cold sick, and a cup. But to give JWT credit they ploughed on, the head guys were behind it and the countries would just have to lump it.
We just needed that new startling endline.
But everything I did just didn’t seem right.
I don’t remember the exact lines I plastered the walls with, but I remember the problem was usually that any alternative word to ‘defy’ just wasn’t right and any alternative word to ‘convention’ just wasn’t quite..er…enough about convention.
Normal. Average. Accepted. Usual. Traditional.
These words were all in the ball park but not quite ‘Convention’.
The rushes came back and we endeavoured to weave Japanese speaking designers in to a 30 second ad, with a German editor and a German Account Director who was fluent in Japanese, trying to translate in to English subtitles. And the thing about the Japanese language is the way it’s constructed is so alien to how European Latin based languages are constructed it was like trying to turn Hip Hop in to well….music*
Still I searched for the elusive line that summed up this eclectic mix of Japanese culture, driving thrills, and anti-convention.
Eventually I returned to the brief.
“Er…can I just ask what exactly is wrong with Defy Convention? it really seems bang on”
“Well, defy is too defiant…could be seen as too aggressive. Convention is just too well…conventional.”
“I see. So totally wrong”
“No. It’s the brief”
After three months I returned to the UK without having cracked it. Ultimately, a broken man.
So what was the endline they went with in the end?
Take a wild fucking guess.