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[Nicole? Papa! title]


The use of national characteristics, says Publicis' Fiona Love, 'has meant developing a campaign that does indeed "play" on these French values, but, more importantly serves to create a differentiated positioning for each model within the car market.'


[Renault Twingo]
Renault's corporate strategy is a non-conformist one - how else would it have come up with the Twingo? (above) - so it's no surprise that the ads suit the company so well


[Opel Corsa]
Opel's use of supermodels such as Christy Turlington provoked outrage because of the campaign's sexism

Why not make use of national characteristics such as Gallic charm? It's perhaps the only way to give car advertising a lift, short of hiring an aircraft carrier (Citroën Visa GT), destroying an entire forest (Peugeot 405) or getting that messy lava all over the studio (Ford Mondeo).
   The use of national characteristics, says Publicis' Fiona Love, 'has meant developing a campaign that does indeed "play" on these French values, but, more importantly serves to create a differentiated positioning for each model within the car market.'
   The importance of differentiation is necessary in the market-place where the majority of buyers will probably choose a car according to its image. In the small car sector, the cheekiness and fun are important, and France's ability to produce cars with huge quantities of chic is understood by the consumer.
   Bartle Bogle Hegarty have been doing it for years with a cold, Teutonic campaign for the Audi range, playing on the German stereotypes of efficiency and driness. This suits the executive sector, where the buyer is likely to want more information. The black and white ads speak indisputable facts.
   When the Nissan Micra was launched in the UK with the egg shell, it provided a link to the Japanese art of borrowing forms from nature. In this supermini category, to which the Clio also belongs, the egg was an ideal way of giving the Micra more perceived fun than the common perception of Japanese cars.
   The second category uses humour to "attack" countries. Mitsubishi New Zealand's launch of the V3000, a challenger to Australian family sedans, had the catch-phrase for the 1990 model year of 'Enough to make an Aussie look sick,' and the shot of a less than healthy Australian army officer. Opel's launch of the Vectra in the same market stressed the car's development for European conditions and not the traffic jams of Japan when they battled the Toyota Corona.
   The third category uses the customer's country as a source of pride, even though that country is not normally associated with the manufacturer. Nissan is about as American in consumers' minds as Shintoism, but billboard advertising in the United States for the Altima (Bluebird) recently had the single word: 'Homegrown.' (The Altima is manufactured in the United States with 70 per cent local content.)
   The Clio campaign clearly falls into the first category. By using Nicole in the Clio campaign, Renault have developed their own metaphor for the car.
   A great deal of reliance is placed on Nicole's image, to give the commercials an instantly recognizable "French connection". Creative director, Mel Williams, said in the Mirror, 'We were looking for a lively young French girl.' It was important that whoever was cast as Nicole be natural, not the stereotyped, overly made-up model. Companies have learned from the short-term impact of Vauxhall's "supermodel" campaign with the likes of Kate Moss and Christy Turlington.
   It is not just French femininity which makes the campaign. 'Extensive research carried out by Publicis revealed that there is a strong appreciation amongst the British public of the "French" way of life. They are regarded as enjoying a more relaxed, more rewarding lifestyle, where greater importance is placed on culture and family values,' said Love. 'The essence of this is that the French are perceived to enjoy a better and more desirable way of life.'
   Research also showed that France is the most preferred country of residence by 6.8 million Britons, apart from their own, and 2.2 million visited the country in 1990. The book A Year in Provence sold over 150,000 copies, and was on the top-seller list for 42 weeks, not to mention the success of the television series with John Thaw.
   The quality of life and strong traditional elements are recognized by British consumers. Gallic pride, knowing one's national identity, stand out.
   It marks a move away from the use of sex ('Publicités Passionelles', CAP April 1993) and the emergence of the automobile as an essential part of our lifestyles. This is a wise move, considering the risks of causing offence with some of the approaches to using sex in advertising in the past. Women buy an estimated 75 per cent of superminis - thus they are the primary target market for the Clio. One and a half million women buy cars in the UK every year (although this has not stopped car manufacturers from adopting a condescending approach in ads targeting women).
   It is a credit to Publicis' creative directors, Tago Byers and Mel Williams, to seize upon national character. Renault's design chief, Patrick Le Quément, believes in this philosophy. While companies like Peugeot are happy to hand over their design to Italian design house Pininfarina, Le Quément believes that outside companies do not understand Renault's culture - both national and corporate. He was once quoted as saying, 'No outside consultant is going to be as au fait with those things as the people inside the company.' Complementing corporate strategy with advertising objectives may seem an obvious notion, but it is surprising how often this is not done. In many cases, subtle changes are made to objectives so the final placements might reflect an individual product strategy, but not that of the entire company and all its offerings.
   This right combination: of culture, lifestyle, a "human face", and a twist in the plot has worked very well for Renault. It is a combination which few agencies manage to strike - although some mention must be made to the "Divorce" commercial for Volkswagen's Golf a few years ago. That was a successful effort in providing the human face to the automobile.
   But at least Renault have given us a happy situation, in a fictitious world where life is a long holiday. They have also given us ads which have an X-factor which draws audiences.



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The author would like to thank Ms Fiona Love of Publicis Ltd., and the editor of Renault UK's customer magazine, Autoworld for their earlier assistance in this article in CAP magazine.