Monday, December 6, 2010

Madness Play Madmen For Honda - The Story Behind Their Honda City Ads In The Early 80's

Madness fans are generally quite familiar with the songs 'In The City' and 'Driving In My Car'. They are both classics in the cannon of songs featuring the band's trademark 'Nutty Sound.' However, chances are that if you lived outside of Japan in the early 80's you might not have known that Madness appeared in a series of television advertisements for the Honda City, a small sub-compact car sold only in Asia. The band wrote and recorded an original jingle and also appeared in the TV ad, doing their famous 'nutty train' walk. The band apparently liked the jingle so much that they expanded it into a three minute song and released it as a b-side (B/W "Cardiac Arrest") that reached #14 in the UK charts. It was also included on Complete Madness, the band's best-selling greatest hits compilation from 1982. The track version of "In The City" replaced the repeated brand name "Honda Honda Honda..." with the more generic "doomba doomba doomba". Later ads for the Honda City featured snippets of  the song 'Driving In My Car' which was also a hit for the band.

The story behind how Madness came to be pitchmen for Honda is one full of corporate intrigue and perseverance and ultimately success for the car maker and the band.  The Honda City was supposed to be a game changer for the Japanese car maker which at the time was stuck in a sales drought.  Much thought and energy was put into its design and once it was ready to be shipped to dealers it needed an ad campaign. Looking to connect with a younger consumer, Honda's marketing team unexpectedly turned to Madness, then riding high in the charts, hoping they might just be perfect for a series of super-frantic TV spots. According to the Honda web site: '...the sales promotion staff attempted something completely different. They tried to create original music for young people, paying extra attention to rhythm in order to build a sense of pace and anticipation for the product. To that end, the production staff flew to New York in the hope of gathering musicians to create a City band. It was then that someone passed along the information that there was an English band that played a unique form of ska music, and that their dance style also was quite unique. The band was virtually unknown to Japanese music fans, but the staff decided to employ them anyway, attracted by their oddity and novelty. Upper management, however, simply would not hear of it.'

There was much back and forth between the promotion staff and Honda senior management, but finally, after multiple proposals, the executive in charge of bringing the car to market gave the marketers the green light and Madness were invited to Japan.  According to Honda: 'The recording, photo sessions, and commercial filming were completed in rapid succession. In fact, production took only two-and-a-half days during the band’s four-day stay in Japan. With the completion of the scene featuring the Centipede Dance [Nutty Train] to the music of the now-famous “Honda, Honda, Honda” tune'.  The ads had the intended effect and Japanese consumers fell in love with the band. As soon as the commercials began airing, the “Honda, Honda, Honda” melody and the 'nutty train' dance became a huge hit throughout Japan, popping up at school festivals and parties. As for the Honda, they had a hit on their hands as well.

Below are videos of the band's ad's for Honda as well as the video's for 'In The City' and 'Driving In My Car'.

The band have continued to serve as pitchmen, most notable in the early 90's for Sekonda wrist watches. More recently the band's lead singer Suggs has served as spokesperson for Birds Eye fish fingers.


Steve from Moon said...

The ads are classic! Go Nutty Boys!

mikeyjay said...

Awesome Find Marco!!! I have played the last video/tune about 14 times in a row now.

Anonymous said...

Wot? Is that Neville, Terry and Lynval from the Specials doing a cameo as the hitch-hikers to Coventry (3:29) in the vid for "Driving in My Car"?

Marco On The Bass said...

Yes indeed! That is the Fun Boy 3 bumming a ride in the Driving In My Car video.

Lawless said...

I've known about these commercials for years but the insite into what the brand was thinking is stellar. Always wondered why Madness? Why? Now I know. Thanks Marco.

Anonymous said...

Great read.

Madness did some more ads I believe, I remember a Colgate Blue Minty Gel ad, although I don't think it featured the band themselves but some kids imitating the 'nutty train' and als a Dutch carpet spoof comes to mind which aired intill recently!