Throwback Thursday: Imagination’s Shereen O’Brien talks cars, exercise and chewing gum

Shereen O’Brien, the creative strategy director at Imagination in Hong Kong, reflects on the art of storytelling in three ads from Europe and Asia.

If you are from the UK or Australia, you would be hard pressed not to remember Honda’s “Cog” advertisement of 2003. The commercial showed the domino effect of small pieces and parts of a Honda Accord vehicle, lined up with musical precision to demonstrate what is needed to build the car.

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O’Brien, who hails from London, remembers clearly the impact the full-length two-minute ad, had on all who viewed it.

“You came in to school or work the next day and everyone was talking about it. It captivated the nation,” O’Brien says.

“The way we consume media has changed, nowadays, people rarely watch the same ad at the same time – so there was this experience of the whole country watching it together,” she says.

Honda – “The Cog”

The content itself is relatively simple – the bits and pieces to build a car.  “The two minute spot transcended the realm of a TV commercial, and became an experience, in this case – a national experience,” says O’Brien.

The ad’s success also lies in the simplicity of the messaging.

The campaign tagline: “Isn’t it nice when things just work?” Is simple and based on a

single minded insight that conveys Honda’s reliability in a relatable way, says O’Brien. Anyone of any age could understand it.

The ad’s longevity in digital is backed up by the millions of views it continues to generate on YouTube.

Creating brand experiences reflects the work O’Brien now does with Imagination in Asia – whether that is for an event, a brand experience, an innovation center or a digital campaign.

Having now worked in Asia for almost 10 years, a campaign that stands out in particular from this region is a series of 15-second Nike ads aimed at Chinese consumers in second and third-tier cities.

Nike China – “Anytime”

O’Brien had just moved to the central Chinese city of Xi’an when these ads gained traction for their short and poignant messaging.

“Nike really tapped into an important insight into the way people worked out in Chinese second and third-tier cities. In the West, people go to the gym or do yoga but the whole exercise culture in those parts of China at that time were not the same,” says O’Brien.

Each spot ends with the Mandarin characters of “隨時” (Anytime). The messaging that no matter when or where you are, you can exercise, because it’s a way of life, she adds.

Studying screenwriting at university has also given O’Brien an appreciation into the art of short-form storytelling.

“Longer stories are sometimes easier to tell than short stories, especially short stories without words. But within that 15 seconds, these Nike ads manage to tell a strong story in the messaging as well as communicate the Nike brand values,” she says.

While it is aimed at a specific demographic of consumers, the beauty in the storytelling means the viewer doesn’t have to speak Chinese to understand the ads.

O’Brien also recalls a series of Wrigley’s China ads from 2010-2011 that follow the flourishing romance between a guy and a girl. Wrigley’s had a big budget for the ads, employing Taiwanese movie stars Gwei Lun-Mei and Eddie Peng. This clip below is just one of a number in the series which also showed the couple on a date and travelling together.

Wrigley’s Extra – Petrol station

“During that time in China, I didn’t watch much TV, mostly just DVDs, the only ads I was watching were the ones I was searching for on YouTube for my work – but this Wrigley’s ad was just everywhere,” says O’Brien.

She stresses that for any communication – regardless of platform – it all comes down to storytelling.

“The art of storytelling in advertising is often lost, but these ads tell a really nice story as we watch the relationship of this young couple develop over the course of the series.”

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