Wieden + Kennedy London has established a rather lofty bar for its work on Honda; the shop has produced such mega-hits as "Cog," and "Grrr" for the marketer. When it came to the launch campaign for the 2012 Civic, the agency acknowledged the pressure but came through with a buzzed-about interactive game built with HTML5, Honda Experiment. Here, the team from W+K and production partners B-Reel, discuss the particulars of creating something compelling in this format and how, for the moment, HTML5 is an experiment in itself.
"There’s always pressure on us to deliver a really good idea for Honda," says W+K interactive producer Dominic Tunon of the brief itself. "At the same time there’s this freedom they give us to explore new areas."
The concept of the Honda Experiment is simple enough: the viewer arranges images of various objects in a certain sequence to watch a Rube Goldberg-esque chain reaction occur. "But starting from that very simple premise to building something which is a rich enough experience for people to really have fun with it is where it started getting complex," says Tunon. Teaming up with production agency B-Reel, Tunon and crew weathered intense brainstorming sessions where countless Post-it notes were sacrificed in order to prepare for a 3-day shoot in London. "From setting things on fire to creating double rainbows, we captured more than 230 clips to allow users to try thousands of dynamic combinations," says Riccardo Giraldi, creative director for B-Reel, London. As amazing as some of the props were, including one very charming trained chicken, the real star of the Honda Experiment is HTML5.
"In a way HTML5 is bringing some really great things to the web and advertisement, but at the same time it’s also a bit of a nightmare," notes Giraldi. "Even just an update of a browser can cause your experience to crash."
Long supported by browsers such as Chrome, Firefox, and Safari, HTML5’s biggest hurdle are versions of Internet Explorer below IE9. For B-Reel and W+K, however, their decision to use HTML5, flaws and all, was a worthwhile risk. "You have to be ready to adapt to limitations, which in this case meant leaving Internet Explorer behind," says Giraldi. As a solution, B-Reel created a demo level for IE9 that acted as sort of a teaser to the main game, all the while encouraging users to download HTML5-supported browsers in order to play the Honda Experiment to its fullest potential. "In terms of the user experience, we felt we really wanted to offer a certain kind of experience that we couldn’t compromise on," says Giraldi. And that unwillingness to settle and to use technology that’s still in its early stages just so happened to coincide nicely with Honda’s message of "experimenting."
"When developing new generations of [their cars], Honda has had to go back to the drawing board and try new things, and we thought that the challenges they faced were akin to the challenges we faced building this," says Tunon. "No one has done anything like this before, so we felt it was apropos."
With an average dwell time of 6-7 minutes on the site—a feat Tunon describes as "extraordinary" for what’s essentially an ad—it seems as if all this talk of HTML5, innovation, and experimenting has paid off for Honda and can hopefully serve as a testament to appealing to the user experience on any level. "It’s kind of insulting to the user if you’re just giving them these ‘whack-a-mole’ kind of games where you don’t have to do anything but click your mouse furiously and you win—that’s not what advertising should be," says Tunon. "Users are more intelligent than that, and I want to create something more thoughtful than that."
So what’s HTML5’s future like in advertising? Browser hang-ups and dearth of tools aside, Tunon and Giraldi agree that no one should think of HTML as the "Flash killer."
"I think Flash is going to change its positioning to be the only cross platform solution for mobile apps," says Giraldi. "HTML5 is going to become more and more relevant online, and, with some improvements, will reach a point where it’s solid. But (right now) we are really working on the edge of what’s possible—what’s allowed and what’s not. It’s a really intense journey because you’re trying to do something new that the technology is not made for, but this is part of the experiment."