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Estelle Skornik Nicole, a.k.a. Estelle Skornik, photographed in 1994 when the advertisements reached cult status (Renault UK)

OF ALL the campaigns run in the UK in the 1990s, one stands out with the highest recall. In fact, our 1994 story on it is still one of the most often visited parts of CAP Online. And in total, only four words were ever spoken throughout the series.
   The principal two: 'Nicole?' 'Papa!'
   As most people in the United Kingdom know, the lives of pretty, gamine Nicole, in scenic Provence and her father were central in making the Renault Clio one of the UK's top-10 automobiles. The cheekiness of the campaign and its play on France and French culture offered British viewers a little bit of escapism for 30 seconds as the commercials aired over seven years.
   The campaign, from ad agency Publicis, won numerous awards for advertising effectiveness and attracted attention from magazines around the world. The Sofres Automotive study into car advertising showed that the campaign was the most successful ever, with a record 93 per cent recall figure. In the seven years of the advertisements, the Clio found 300,000 British buyers, with year-on-year sales rises to the end of 1997. Renault believes this also helped it restore its reputation in the United Kingdom and the company has earned an image of producing chic cars.
   It is a tribute to Publicis's talent, especially the late creative director Mel Williams, that Nicole and Papa succeeded in embodying market research into the UK's perception of the French way of life, including successful books such as Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. Part of the research also showed that the French were perceived to have a more desirable way of life, and that included the romantic flings which both Nicole and Papa have in the commercials. Most importantly, the campaign quickly became part of British life and shot 21-year-old actress Estelle Skornik into national stardom. She is undoubtedly far better known in the United Kingdom than in her native France. In 1996, one survey found that Nicole was recognized by more Britons than Prime Minister John Major, Bob Hoskins or Chris Evans.
   With the launch of a new-model Clio for 1998, Renault and Publicis decided to conclude the Nicole and Papa story with the wedding of the year. Speculation in the British press grew as to whom would be the groom. This provided additional publicity as Nicole's name was tied to footballers Eric Cantona and David Ginola in the weeks leading up to the wedding on May 29. Later, Renault said that the groom would be British, prompting speculation over Hugh Grant, James Major and

In 1996, one survey found that Nicole was recognized by more Britons than Prime Minister John Major, Bob Hoskins or Chris Evans.

Gary Barlow. For extra-high exposure, the concluding £1 million advertisement was scheduled for 7.40 P.M. on ITV, during the long-running British soap Coronation Street, still a ratings success.
   Viewers were surprised to find a commercial with the taste of the originals as Nicole is escorted to her wedding in a 1931 Renault Nerva Stella amongst tasteful Provençal surroundings, but with the addition of comedians Reeves and Mortimer as the groom and jilted lover respectively.
   Nicole chooses Bob Mortimer, leaving Reeves pursuing her down the aisle as she makes her exit. 'Bob'the fourth word to be spoken in seven yearsdrives the new model Clio, which was then officially launched to the UK public.
   Publicis was wise not to redo a series of Nicole and Papa commercials for the new model. Despite being very popular, it was a hard act to follow and a genuinely new car deserved a new campaign. The advertisements now emphasize size, with the tagline 'Size Matters', starring French actress Hélène Mahieu and British actor Stuart Laing, filmed in Barcelona and Lindisfarne. The new model clocked up 26,000 orders in the two months after the wedding, including the first 5,000 at a rate of two per minute. The new series has its fans, if enquiries to CAP reading 'Who is the actress in the Renault Clio commercials now?' are any indication.
   However, the Nicole and Papa saga, which has been as much about the 1990s to Britain as Melrose Place is to the States, has reached that prized spot in advertising history: it has become a cult story. Sixty million Britons can't be wrong.

Next page All the Nicole ads summarized

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